BOZEMAN — A conservation group wants a trap-free buffer in Montana to protect wolves roaming outside Yellowstone National Park.
The Greater Yellowstone Coalition said the state Fish, Wildlife and Parks Commission shouldn't allow wolf trapping in three management units that cover southern Montana from the Absaroka Mountains to the Madison Range.
Montana wildlife commissioners earlier this month approved new wolf hunting rules that allow trapping and the killing of up to three wolves by one trapper to reduce the state's wolf population.
"It's disappointing, because up until this year, Montana's plan to deal with wolves has been the model to point to," said Chris Colligan, Wyoming wildlife advocate for the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. "Trapping is a blanket approach to managing wolves, and it needs to be more of a targeted approach."
Commission Chairman Bob Ream said the agency considered the group's comments, which was why it set a wolf quota for one of the management units.
"(The coalition) is just one of hundreds of groups whose comments we had to consider," Ream told the Bozeman Daily Chronicle (http://bit.ly/P0sO2i ). "We said that we'd look at it at the December meeting, and if we think too many wolves have been killed, then we may shut some areas down."
Last winter, hunters killed 166 of a 220-wolf quota, and the population rose at the end of 2011 by 15 percent to at least 653 wolves. That led the commission to vote for a more liberal hunting season. The new rules, approved on a voice vote, closely resemble regulations in Idaho.
Wildlife managers project the new rules would take the state to fewer than 600 wolves and possibly less than 500.
But the Greater Yellowstone Coalition is concerned trapping could result in a repeat of the elimination of a pack well known in Yellowstone National Park in 2009. That year, hunters killed four of the 10 wolves in Yellowstone's Cottonwood Pack, the subject of years of scientific research and a popular draw for wolf watchers from across the country.
The Cottonwood pack was composed of "park wolves" that spent 98 percent of their time inside Yellowstone, only to be shot when they briefly wandered across the Montana border as the hunting season began.