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A Ravalli County sportsmen's group is asking the state of Montana to do whatever it takes to meet the wolf quota in the West Fork of the Bitterroot, including trapping if necessary.

So far, hunters have killed three wolves in the hunting district where elk numbers have plummeted in the past few years.

The West Fork wolf quota is 18.

"We are definitely concerned about the low rate of harvest so far," said Tony Jones, president of the Ravalli County Fish and Wildlife Association. "We're hoping the state will do some other things. Trapping is something we would like them to consider."

Last week, the state Fish, Wildlife and Parks Commission extended Montana's second wolf hunt to Feb. 15. The season was originally set to close at the end of the year.

In an effort to garner more interest in the hunt, the association is raffling a $650 rifle to hunters who kill a wolf from Dec. 1 to the end of the hunting season.

So far, no wolves have been killed this month in the area.

FWP regional wildlife manager Mike Thompson said the department is concerned too about the low harvest of wolves up to this point in the West Fork.

"That is definitely a quota that we need to meet," Thompson said. "We have a problem that was addressed in the original 10(j) permit. That problem still exists."

Last March, the federal government recommended approval of a 10(j) request by the state to shoot 18 wolves of the estimated 30 animals in the West Fork area.

The request became moot after a congressional rider removed Rocky Mountain gray wolves from federal protection under the Endangered Species Act and returned management to the states.

"Even with the 10(j) out the window," Jones said "the need still exists. Since the management needs have now shifted to the state, it should make it easier for the state to act. ... The only thing that has changed is there is less hunter opportunity and more wolves."

All elk and deer hunting in the West Fork this year was by limited permit.

Marc Cooke, National WolfWatcher Coalition co-founder, said that organization is opposed to any extension to the wolf season in the West Fork.

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Cooke said the state is not using the best available science in making its decisions on wolves.

If a pack is killed in the West Fork, another pack will just fill the vacuum that's created, he said.

"You are only creating another problem," he said. "What we're seeing is the total appeasement of hunters and the livestock industry."

If the state does choose to allow trapping for wolves in the West Fork, Jones said the association wants local sportsmen to have that opportunity.

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"We don't want government trappers to do it," he said.

At this point, Thompson said the state hopes that sportsmen will start having some more success on their wolf hunting endeavors in the West Fork.

If that doesn't happen by the end of the wolf season in February, Thompson said the state will likely look at other options to attempt to meet the quota.

Neither Thompson nor Jones considered gunning wolves from helicopters a good option in the West Fork.

Idaho announced last week it would attempt to reduce wolf numbers using that method in the Lolo area.

"That would sure be our last resort," Thompson said. "Our intent right now is not to do that, but on the other hand, we do have to find some way to try to be effective in reducing predator numbers where calf/cow ratios are low."

While using helicopters is a bold move by Idaho that shows their resolve in reducing wolf numbers, Jones said he was skeptical on how well that would work in the West Fork.

"I just don't know how successful it would be in the West Fork," he said. "It's steep, wooded and there is lots of cover for wolves to hide in."

Reach reporter Perry Backus at 363-3300 or pbackus@ravallirepublic.com.

 

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