Members of Wolf Patrol were in Sanders County, Montana from January 15-18th, to monitor an organized wolf hunt in western Montana dubbed the “Great Montana Wolf & Coyote Hunt.” The event was sponsored by the Montana Trappers Association and other sportsmen’s groups and was billed as an effort to “manage the wolf and coyote population.”
Wolf Patrol’s objective is to monitor coordinated “killing contests” or trapping competitions in Idaho and Montana, which are the only states outside of Alaska to still allow wolf hunting. Wolf Patrol decided to investigate the event after Montana residents brought the predator contest to our attention and after a similar contest was held in Salmon, Idaho the past two years.
The Montana hunt was centered in Sanders County, where very few livestock depredations were reported by Montana Fish Wildlife & Parks in 2014. The few wolf-caused depredations reported, resulted in lethal removal of the responsible animals by federal Wildlife Services agents from the Garden Creek and Corona wolf packs. Events like the “Great Montana Wolf & Coyote Hunt” are more than just recreational hunts, they are vigilante-style wolf eradication programs that have the potential to wipe out not only solitary animals, but entire wolf family groups.
According to their own report, over a hundred trappers and hunters participated in the event with two successful wolf trappers maintaining a trapline consisting of 40 traps. Even if only 50 of the participating trappers maintained traplines of as many as forty traps, that would still mean up to 2,000 leg-hold traps and cable snares set in a concentrated effort to target one species. Wolf Patrol believes that such publicly organized wildlife control actions can have an overly adverse effect on Montana’s wolf population and should be illegal.
Reviews of Montana Fish Wildlife & Park’s Wolf Program Depredation/Mortality Report also revealed a high amount of illegal wolf kills in neighboring Mineral County, where anti-wolf activists have bragged of killing wolves. When a local Wolf Patrol member purchased their wolf tag last week, they were told, “use it to kill as many wolves as you can…” Driving along the highway that leads off Interstate 90 to Sanders County you will also pass a homemade billboard of a wolf in crosshairs. These factors led to Wolf Patrol’s decision to investigate and monitor this particular hunt.
Wolf Patrol member(s) attended the registration event at a private ranch on January 16th, where two wolves trapped the previous day were on display. Other Wolf Patrol members spent the day traveling US Forest Service and county roads in Sanders County, investigating possible snare and trap sites.
On Saturday, January 17th we continued our patrols and located an old wolf den and the site of a much more recent wolf kill. This particular drainage in the Lolo National Forest was typical of that in the area, high remote forested areas accessible to humans only by snowmobile, yet allowing for wolves to easily travel down unplowed roads to creeks for water and to hunt prey in lower elevations. Along the Clark Fork River, on Blue Slide Road, where hunt participants told us a lot of wolf traps were set, we saw many deer and elk which probably draw wolves out of the higher elevations.
Hunt participants travelled mostly in a sixty-mile radius, many accessing traplines with snowmobiles. Besides the two wolves trapped in Sanders County on Thursday January 14th, one wolf, a two year-old male, was reportedly trapped by a hunt participant. No coyotes were reportedly taken. Most participants said they were attending the event to specifically trap wolves.
Two other predator killing events took place in western Montana January 16-18th, and Wolf Patrol will continue to monitor wolf trapping in Montana until the season closes February 15th.