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Hunters become the hunted

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arib | Sep 02, 2009 04:08 PM

Yesterday, on the opening day of Idaho’s first wolf season in decades, at least two hunters made quick use of their recently purchased wolf tags. The hunt began amidst whirling debate, after Montana Federal Judge Donald W. Molloy delayed ruling on a lawsuit brought by 13 environmental groups to halt the hunt. Concerned that the hunt will damage recovering wolf populations recently removed from the endangered species list (“Still Howling Wolf”), the groups hoped Molloy would stop the hunt like he did last year. Now, the Idaho wolf season will continue until Molloy makes his decision, which will also affect Montana’s hunt, slated to begin on Sep. 15.

Hunters and ranchers eager to have their first legal shot at the controversial canine have already bought roughly 10,000 wolf tags in Idaho and at least 2,500 in Montana. But both states have set limits on the total number of wolves hunters can kill: Idaho’s quota is 220 out of about 850 and Montana will allow 75 out of roughly 500.

Many hunters see the season as an opportunity to control the growing wolf population, which they blame for attacking livestock and killing game. Perhaps with reason, as the Missoulian reported the largest known wolf depredation in recent history last week:

In a highly unusual move for wolves, they killed about 120 adult male sheep in one incident on the Rebish/Konen Livestock Ranch south of Dillon last week.

That compares with a total of 111 sheep killed by wolves in Montana in 2008, according to Carolyn Sime, the statewide wolf coordinator for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks.

In 2008, federal permits to kill wolves that have harmed livestock, like an order put out in Oregon yesterday for a wolf pair caught killing sheep, resulted in the deaths of a record 264 wolves in the Northern Rockies, according to the New York Times.

Despite the success of the Idaho hunters, wolves are notoriously difficult to track down. Indeed, many who bought tags don’t plan on actively seeking out the predators. Some hunters just want a piece of history instead of a wall trophy, reported the Montana Standard:

“They’re going to frame it, put it on their wall,” (Bob LeFever, of a Butte Sporting Goods store) said of the tags. “At least they’ll have something.”

See HCN's video on the great wolf controversy.

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