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Wildlife managers plan to reduce statewide wolf quota for 2023

Gray wolf.
Gray Wolf

Montana’s estimated wolf population has decreased again following the 2022 hunting and trapping season. However, hunters didn’t kill all the wolves state regulators would have allowed.

Wolf numbers are declining, but at a slower rate than state lawmakers had hoped when they mandated a nearly 40% reduction in the population in 2021.

In 2022, hunters killed half the number of wolves allowed by Montana wildlife managers; nearly 250 wolves were taken.

That puts the statewide estimated wolf population at 1,087, the lowest mark in at least five years.

Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks (FWP) has proposed lowering the quota for wolf hunts for the next hunting and trapping season. Greg Lemon, the agency’s communications manager, says this new threshold meets the goal of reducing the population without numbers getting too low and causing wolves to be re-listed under the Endangered Species Act.

“That quota gives us the best balance of meeting our statutory mandate to reduce wolf numbers to a sustainable level while protecting the population from getting too low,” Lemon said.

Lemon says despite the overall number of wolves killed being much lower than the established quota, it's on track with previous years.

Marc Cooke with the Stevensville-based advocacy group Wolves of the Rockies says he’s concerned that the low number of wolves killed, despite liberalized hunting regulations, indicates there aren’t as many wolves on the landscape as the agency estimates.

“Other than 24/7 365, pretty much everything is out there to kill these animals. I don’t buy that,” Cooke said. “I think there’s less wolves out there on the ground than the department thinks there is.”

FWP has also recommended keeping a six wolf quota for management unit 313, which borders the northern edge of Yellowstone National Park. Groups like Cooke’s have petitioned the commission to ban hunting in areas adjacent to the park.

Fish and Wildlife Commissioners will vote to approve FWP’s proposed quotas in their August meeting.

FWP has not released the numbers for 2023 yet.

Ellis Juhlin is MTPR's Rocky Mountain Front reporter. Ellis previously worked as a science reporter at Utah Public Radio and a reporter at Yellowstone Public Radio. She has a Master's Degree in Ecology from Utah State University. She's an average birder and wants you to keep your cat indoors. She has two dogs, one of which is afraid of birds.
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