Officials gives initial OK to expanding wolf hunt

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HELENA, Mont. (AP) — Wildlife officials have given tentative approval to a proposal to lengthen the hunting season for wolves and increase the limit from one to five animals.

After making the decision on Thursday, Fish, Wildlife and Parks commissioners will take public comment before finalizing the changes.

FWP is proposing a rifle season from Sept 15 to March 31, compared to the current season that runs from Oct. 15 to Feb. 15.

Last season, hunters and trappers could take only one wolf, but a new law allowed the agency to increase that limit.

Sportsmen's groups and ranchers supported the proposal, while backers of wolf re-introduction said the plan goes too far and threatens wolf numbers, the Independent Record (http://bit.ly/13KoEGb ) reported.

FWP Wildlife Division manager Ken McDonald said the agency is trying to find ways to increase opportunities to hunt wolves and reduce their numbers, even as agency officials are learning how to better manage the predators.

A total of 225 wolves were killed by hunters and trappers last season. There were at least 625 wolves in the state at the end of 2012, a 4 percent decrease from the year before.

Under the proposal for the 2013-14 hunting season, FWP would continue the general hunting season with a statewide quota, set a seven-wolf quota in a wolf management unit north of Yellowstone National Park, and maintain a two-wolf limit in a hunting area near Glacier National Park.

The agency also wants the authority to initiate emergency season closures at any time, especially if wolf harvest levels seem excessive.

FWP Commission Chairman Dan Vermillion said he knows wolf management is a contentious issue, but he noted that everyone who spoke at Thursday's meeting seemed to have the common goal of maintaining healthy populations of elk, wolves, deer and other wildlife.

Public comments will be taken through June 24 and the commission will consider final adoption at its July 10 meeting in Helena.

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