0307MontanaWolfControlsr.cfm Mont. giving more authority to kill wolves
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Mont. giving more authority to kill wolves

HELENA, Mont. (AP)--Montana will give federal wildlife officials greater authority to trap and shoot wolves that have killed livestock, loosening a policy that has been criticized by ranchers and hunters as ineffective in managing the state's growing wolf population.

The plan would allow federal trappers responding to a complaint of injured or dead livestock to kill any wolves found near the carcass without any additional authorization, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Director Joe Maurier said March 5. Presently, agents with the U.S. Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services must call FWP for instructions after investigating a complaint and confirming wolves were responsible.

The new policy--"implementing lethal control as quickly as possible''--gives wildlife officials more flexibility when responding to problem wolves, Maurier told a legislative oversight committee. Under the policy, federal trappers would have one day to kill or trap wolves near the carcass, and would have to update state wildlife officials with the outcome of their response within 24 hours.

The policy will go into effect after undergoing final revisions, Maurier said. The department has not estimated how many more wolves are expected to be killed but plans to monitor closely and make adjustments as needed, he said.

John Steuber, USDA Wildlife Services director for Montana, said he backs the new policy. His agency will have to monitor its effects, but he believes it will be a positive step in dealing with the problem.

Montana's wolves were taken off the endangered species list last year, allowing the state to establish a hunting season. A court case challenging the delisting is pending.

Montana had at least 497 wolves at the end of 2008, according to state wildlife officials, while Idaho had at least 846 and Wyoming at least 312.

More than 200 wolves have been killed in the state in the past year by hunters and wildlife officials. Many ranchers and hunters said that is not enough, and complain that they continue to lose cattle, sheep and game to wolves.

State wildlife officials agree, but said they are careful in finding the right number of wolves to kill without diminishing the population to the point where the federal government or the courts would intercede.

Kim Baker, president of the Montana Cattleman's Association, said wolves have become habituated to feeding on livestock. The same pack of wolves has been attacking her cattle for the past three years, most recently in February, she said.

The state's new policy is still too restrictive, and wildlife officials should be given more than 24 hours to find and kill the problem wolves after livestock has been killed, Baker said.

She and Twin Bridges rancher Carol Giem said that for the new policy to be effective, more money should be given to Wildlife Services agents to bulk up their numbers and give them the ability to respond more effectively when a rancher or landowner files a complaint.

"Whatever money you can give to the Wildlife Services, that's where we want it to go. They are our line of defense,'' Giem said.

While many ranchers would like to see the number of wolves drastically reduced, at least one said they should be able to live alongside the wild animals. Marc Cooke said wolves are around his ranch in Stevensville, but he is proactive in protecting his livestock against them.

"I like wolves in Montana, I want to keep wolves in Montana and I wouldn't mind having more,'' he said.

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