Montana wildlife officials are considering new restrictions against hunting wolves in the vicinity of Yellowstone National Park, following the shooting around the park of gray wolves wearing tracking collars.
Hunting and trapping are prohibited inside park boundaries, but wolves range freely inside and outside the park and at least seven of Yellowstone’s 88 wolves have been shot in recent weeks.
Legal wolf trapping starts on Dec. 15 for the first time in the four decades since the animals landed on the endangered species list, so closing areas to trapping and setting quotas on the number of wolves that can be trapped was a topic at Monday’s meeting of the Montana Wildlife Commission.
"We don't want to close any area off if we don't have to. But if we keep losing collared wolves . . . management becomes difficult," Montana Wildlife Commissioner Shane Colton told the Associated Press. "We want to do this first trapping season right."
Wildlife advocacy groups have been pressing state officials to impose a protective buffer zone around Yellowstone to protect a species that is popular to the park's 3 million annual visitors.
An alpha female wolf named 832F which was beloved by visitors and tracked closely by the scientists was found shot dead by hunters last Thursday.
"She is the most famous wolf in the world," wildlife photographer Jimmy Jones told The Guardian.
The wolves that were shot over the past few weeks had been wearing $4,000 GPS tracking collars, disrupting the research efforts of experts.
Given the death of 832F and other recent killings, advocates are dismayed by the news that wolf trapping is returning.
Monday's meeting gave commissioners a chance to review the wolf harvest to date heading into a trapping season scheduled to run through Feb. 28. The intent is to see if too many wolves are being killed or the killing is overly concentrated in a particular area, said Fish, Wildlife and Parks spokesman Ron Aasheim.
Park officials have made no new requests, said Dave Hallac, chief of Yellowstone’s Center for Resources. In 2009 and last year, lower quotas and other measures to decrease wolf harvests near Yellowstone were sought, he said.
The Northern Rockies region had an estimated 1,774 wolves at the end of 2011, including at least 653 in Montana. Hunters have shot at least 87 wolves across Montana this fall. At least 120 have been killed by hunters and trappers in Idaho and 58 have been shot in Wyoming.
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