Twenty of Yellowstone National Park’s famous gray wolves have roamed the park and have been shot by hunters in recent months – the most killed by the hunt in a single season since predators were reintroduced to the area over 25 years old, according to park officials.
Fifteen wolves were shot after crossing the park’s northern border into Montana, according to figures released by the Associated Press. Five more died in Idaho and Wyoming.
Park officials said in a statement to AP that the deaths mark “a significant setback for the long-term viability of the species and for wolf research.” its members were killed over a two-month period starting in October, according to the park.
It is estimated that 94 wolves remain in Yellowstone. But with months before Montana wolf hunting season – and wolf trapping season has just started – park officials said they expected more wolves to die after wandering from Yellowstone, where hunting is prohibited.
Park Superintendent Cam Sholly first raised concerns about wolf deaths last September near the park border and recently urged Republican Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte to stop hunting and trapping in the area.
Sholly cited “the extraordinary number of Yellowstone wolves already killed this hunting season” in a Dec. 16 letter to Gianforte that was released to AP as part of an access to information request.
Gianforte, an avid hunter and trapper, did not directly respond to the request to stop hunting in a response to Sholly on Wednesday.
“Once a wolf leaves the park and enters Montana state land, it may be harvested in accordance with regulations established by the (State Wildlife) Commission under Montana law.” , wrote Gianforte.
Last year, Gianforte received a warning from a Montana game warden after he trapped and shot a radio-collar wolf about 10 miles north of the park without completing a trapper training course commissioned by the ‘State.
In his response to Sholly, the governor said Montana protects against overhunting through rules passed by the Wildlife Commission, which can review hunting seasons if harvest levels exceed a certain threshold.
For southwestern Montana, including areas bordering the park, this threshold is 82 wolves. Sixty-three have been killed in that region so far this season, out of 149 wolves killed statewide, according to Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks.
The last wolf slaughter along the Montana-Yellowstone border was on New Years Day. Wolf trapping in the area opened on December 21. Under new rules, Montana trappers can now use animal carcasses or other bait to lure wolves into jaw traps or snares.
“Allowances for trapping and especially baiting are a major concern, especially if these tactics lure wolves out of the park,” Yellowstone spokesman Morgan Warthin said.
Pressed by Republican lawmakers, Montana wildlife officials last year eased statewide wolf hunting and trapping rules and removed long-standing quota limits for wolves in areas bordering the park. Quotas only allowed a few wolves to be killed along the border each year.
The initial quotas were intended to protect the packs that attract tourists from all over the world to the region, as they can often be spotted in the wild.
Montana’s efforts to facilitate the wolf elimination mirror recent actions by conservative officials in other states such as Idaho and Wisconsin.
The changes came after hunters and herders successfully pushed for action to reduce wolf populations that prey on big game herds and sometimes livestock.
But states’ increased aggression on predators has raised concerns among federal wildlife officials. In September, the US Fish and Wildlife Service said it would review whether federal endangered species protections should be restored for wolves in states north of the Rocky Mountains, including Montana, Idaho and Wyoming.
Protections for wolves were lifted a decade ago based in part on assurances that states would maintain viable wolf populations.
(This story was not edited by Devdiscourse staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)