BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — The shooting of collared gray wolves from Yellowstone National Park is prompting Montana wildlife commissioners to consider new restrictions against killing the predators in areas near the park.
Wolf trapping in Montana kicks off Dec. 15. It's the state's first such trapping season since the animals lost their federal protections last year after almost four decades on the endangered species list.
But hunting already is under way for the predators in Montana and neighboring Idaho and Wyoming, and at least seven of Yellowstone's roughly 88 wolves have been shot in recent weeks while travelling outside the park.
That includes five wolves fitted with tracking collars for scientific research, said Dan Stahler, a biologist with the park's wolf program. The most recent to be shot, the collared alpha female from the well-known Lamar Canyon pack, was killed last week in Wyoming.
Also shot in recent weeks were four collared wolves originally from the park but now living outside it. Three more shot in the vicinity of the park had unknown origins, park officials said.
Montana wildlife commissioner Shane Colton said closing some areas to trapping or setting strict quotas will be on the table during a Monday commission meeting.
"We don't want to close any area off if we don't have to. But if we keep losing collared wolves ... management becomes difficult," Colton said. "We want to do this first trapping season right."
Wildlife advocacy groups are pressing state officials to impose a protective buffer zone around the park to protect a species that serves as a major draw for the Yellowstone's 3 million visitors annually. Hunting and trapping are prohibited inside park boundaries, but wolves range freely across that line.
Marc Cooke with the group Wolves of the Rockies alleged hunters were targeting collared animals, either for bragging rights or out of spite for wolf restoration in the Northern Rockies. Shooting a collared wolf is not illegal if it's done within state hunting regulations.
Cooke said the Lamar Canyon wolf killed Thursday was well-known among wolf watchers. It was known as 832F to researchers and among tourists as '06 ("oh-six"), after the year of its birth.
"The proportion of collared wolves is too high to believe this is not being done deliberately," Cooke said. "It's wrong, and the world needs to know this."
Radio collars on wolves are used to track the animals' movement, often for research. They also are used outside the park to track down and kill the predators following livestock attacks.