They never seem too far from the limelight, and continue to be one of the most polarizing species in the state.

And such was the case when both sides aired their concerns during a meeting in Helena Wednesday. At the epicenter of the controversy was Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks  methodology for calculating the number of wolves in the state, for its annual report.

My friend Brett French, Outdoor Editor for the Billings Gazette, detailed the fur that was flying during that meeting before the Environmental Quality Council. Brett tells us that wolf advocates accuse the Republican-dominated Montana State Legislature of declaring a war on wolves, with extended seasons and allowing more ways to harvest them.

And when challenged on the ways wolves are counted in the state, Montana FWP defended their system known as the Integrated Patch Occupancy Model. To arrive at estimated populations, the system relies not only on hunter surveys, but also known wolf locations and estimates of pack size and territories.

Opponents say FWP is cooking the books with that method, resulting in overestimated populations. The latest estimate includes 1,087 wolves in 181 packs occupying the western third of the state. Drawing further ire was the data gathered and presented for the 2022 wolf season harvest: 248 animals, 121 by hunters and 137 by trappers, which FWP points out is well below the allowed quota of 450 wolves.

Critics of the numbers say the method only works for estimating wildlife distribution, not abundance. The reports says another 35 wolves were killed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services division for attacking 103 livestock, with 10 more wolves killed by private residents protecting their livestock.

So, the debate rages on, and experience tells no one on either side is likely to change their mind. Regardless, FWP says they are crafting a new wolf management plan, which may or may not appease those who say the agency is not listening to the larger population of Montana residents who may not favor wolf hunting.

You can get the full story from Brett French here.

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