HELENA, Mont. (AP) — Montana wildlife commissioners approved new wolf hunting rules Thursday that allow trapping and the killing of up to three of the predators by one trapper.
The move came after the officials waded through thousands of written comments regarding management of the species that evokes strong emotions.
The new rules approved on a voice vote closely resemble regulations in Idaho and follow a hunting season when Montana hunters failed to reach the quota of 220 wolves.
Wildlife managers will allow some trapping, lift most quotas and expand the length of the season. In addition, Fish, Wildlife and Parks officials plan to ask Montana legislators to pass bills to further expand the hunt through measures such as electronic calls.
The plan has generated tremendous public response, particularly about trapping.
Wolf opponents applauded trapping as a necessary adjustment to catch a wily predator, even though some argued it didn't go far enough because it prohibited snaring an animal around the neck with a noose.
"We need to include tools that help to keep this population in check," said Keith Kubista, president of Montana Sportsmen for Fish & Wildlife.
Those who generally want to see more wolves in the state with less control argue trapping is inhumane and traps can inadvertently capture and harm other animals, including pets.
"I will be honest: If my dog gets in a trap we are going to have an issue. It is not right. It is barbaric," wolf advocate Kim Bean told the commission at its meeting.
Unlike trappers, hunters are restricted to killing just one wolf, by state law the commission can't change.
FWP commission chairman Bob Ream said he hopes wolves can ultimately be managed like mountains lions, a predator he said outnumbers wolves by four to five times and is responsible for just as much killing of game. He noted there is comparatively little opposition to hunting lions and little call to radically increase hunting of that animal.
"There are heck of a lot of people who hate wolves or love wolves," Ream said. "We do take public input seriously. This is a tough issue. This is not easy. It has become so polarized."
The FWP remains under pressure from ranchers and hunters to more aggressively reduce wolf numbers a year after a congressional budget rider removed federal protections for the animal from Idaho and Montana.
Wolf advocates argue the numbers should be allowed to increase to ensure a thriving, wild population of the animal that was hunted to near extinction in areas before reintroduction in the 1990s.
Last winter, hunters killed 166 wolves amid a 220-animal quota, and the population rose at the end of 2011 by 15 percent to at least 653 wolves. That led to the vote for a more liberal hunting season.
Wildlife managers project the new rules would take the state to fewer than 600 wolves and possibly less than 500. The FWP said it would monitor the season and can close it if too many animals are being killed.
"The goal is to not exterminate wolves, it is to manage them," said commissioner Dan Vermillion.