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Yellowstone wolf shootings draw scrutiny in Mont.

Published on NewsOK Modified: December 9, 2012 at 2:44 pm •  Published: December 9, 2012

Monday's meeting in Montana was set up months ago to give commissioners a chance to review the wolf harvest to date heading into a trapping season scheduled to run through Feb. 28. The intent was to see if too many were being killed or the killing was overly concentrated in a particular area, said Fish, Wildlife and Parks spokesman Ron Aasheim.

He said agency officials would make no recommendation on quotas or closures. Montana has low harvest limits for wolves in some areas near Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks. Those don't include all the areas where collared wolves have been shot. Cooke and others said they don't go far enough.

Yellowstone's chief scientist acknowledged the recent shootings have an impact on the park's wolf research. But Dave Hallac, chief of the park's Center for Resources, said that possibility was anticipated once wolves came off the endangered list.

The number killed so far does not threaten the park's overall population, he said.

Park officials will be observing Monday's commission meeting but have made no new requests of Montana officials, Hallac said. The park previously sought lower quotas or other measures to decrease wolf harvests near Yellowstone in 2009 and again last year, he said.

The Northern Rockies region had an estimated 1,774 wolves at the end of 2011, including at least 653 in Montana. Officials in all three states want to reduce pack numbers to address livestock attacks and elk numbers that have dropped in some areas.

Hunters have shot at least 87 wolves across Montana this fall. At least 120 have been killed by hunters and trappers in Idaho and 58 have been shot in Wyoming.

Montana Trappers Association President Tom Barnes said his group is wary of stricter wolf harvest limits, which he warned would hamper efforts to control the predators.

"The park is the park, and there are 2.2 million acres in the park," Barnes said. "If they start creating a buffer zone outside the park, are they going to create a larger buffer zone next time and a larger buffer after that?"

State wildlife commissioner Ron Moody said he would support closing areas to harvest or reducing wolf quotas if that's supported by the evidence. But the burden of proof is on wildlife advocates to show why the state should adopt such restrictions, he said.