Montana passed aggressive new anti-wolf legislation this year. Part of the regulatory changes included the removal of the one-wolf quota in each of two wolf management units adjacent to Yellowstone National Park’s northern border. All wolves that leave the park can now legally be killed. As of January 4, 20 park wolves have already been killed since the hunting season began September 15. The wolf trapping season began November 29, with the exception of areas where grizzly bears were still active. As of December 21, wolf trapping opened in those remaining areas.
This year in Montana, an individual is allowed to kill 10 wolves by hunting and an additional 10 wolves by trapping. Hunting and trapping seasons have been extended, and the use of bait is now permitted. Night hunting for wolves with spotlights, thermal imaging technology, and night vision scopes is allowed on private land. Montana will also allow organizations to pay bounties, incentivizing people to kill wolves. The state’s Fish, Wildlife and Parks Commission will convene to review, and possibly adjust, the new regulations after 450 wolves are killed. More than 140 wolves have been killed in Montana this season, and that number is increasing every week.
In 3 1/2 months, approximately 15% of Yellowstone’s wolves have been killed, and the hunting and trapping season runs through March 15, 2022. Typically, more wolves are killed by trapping than hunting, so it is almost certain that the number of dead Yellowstone wolves will continue to increase throughout the winter, particularly when baiting is allowed.
Because so many people flock to Yellowstone to watch wolves, the wolves living predominantly in the park have become accustomed to human presence. This, unfortunately, makes them an easier target for hunters, and arguably violates the principles of fair chase. Yellowstone wolves are part of an ongoing research program, and the loss of so many wolves will have a significant impact on that important work. It is alleged that some hunters and trappers deliberately target collared wolves in the areas north of the park, knowing that they are part of the gray wolf study.
Yellowstone wolves represent a broader recovery success story under the Endangered Species Act, and now they are being killed at an alarming rate. To systematically eradicate wolves once again, after decades of work to restore them in the American West, would be a national tragedy.