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State to end wolf hunt in southwest Montana once threshold is met — but not earlier

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The state will end this season’s wolf hunt in southwest Montana once the threshold is met, despite pleas from residents and conservationists to end it early in some areas.

As of Friday, 76 wolves have been killed in Region 3, just under the state’s threshold of 82. About a quarter of those killed have been from packs in Yellowstone National Park that, under Montana’s new, looser hunting and trapping laws, become fair game as soon as they wander outside the boundaries of the park.

Cara McGary, a wildlife guide in Yellowstone and a co-founder of the Wild Livelihoods Business Coalition, told a meeting of the state Fish and Wildlife Commission she and other business owners depend on the wolves in the park.

“These are the most viewable wolves in the lower 48, if not the world," she said. "Their economic value cannot be overestimated.”

A total of 23 Yellowstone wolves have been killed this season, 18 of them in Montana. State data show 91 wolves remain in the park, though, as the AP previously reported, at least one pack is now considered "eliminated."

Montana lawmakers raised a past quota of 1 wolf in each of the Wildlife Management Units that directly border Yellowstone.

Chris Servheen with the Montana Wildlife Federation, the state’s largest conservation group, urged Fish Wildlife and Parks commissioners on Friday to end the hunt early and reinstate the stricter limit.

“The removal of the quota in hunting districts 313 and 316 lacked any biological justification," he said. "It has grievously harmed the wolves in Yellowstone Park, and the Yellowstone ecosystem."

He warned that continued hunting could land the wolves — which were removed from the endangered species list in 2011 — back under federal protections.

Just one commissioner, Pat Byorth, was in favor of ending hunting in Units 313 and 316. He represents southwest Montana on the state wildlife commission.

"We’re approaching a target, but on a localized scale in hunting district 313 and 316, we’re having a disproportionate impact that has resulted already in a population decline," he said. "Whether or not it’ll bounce back is a whole different question."

Yellowstone National Park Director Cam Sholly wrote a letter to Gov. Greg Gianforte earlier this month requesting a halt to hunting around the park.

FWP says it will end hunting in Region 3 immediately as soon as the threshold is met. Across Montana, 184 wolves had been killed as of Friday out of the 450 allowed by the state.

YPR's Olivia Weitz contributed reporting to this story.

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Nadya Faulx