02:00 PM

Montana issues policy of aggressive wolf elimination, lax enforcement

Montana policy retreats from wolf conservation


  • Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer announced yesterday that ranchers in the state will be allowed to kill wolves without fear of prosecution from state game wardens.
  • In a letter to Department of the Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, Schweitzer said he is also directing the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP) to remove entire packs of wolves implicated in livestock depredations.
  • The Governor is also asking FWP to remove entire wolf packs in the Bitterroot Valley to protect elk herds.
BOZEMAN, Mont. (02/17/2011) -

The following is a statement by Mike Leahy, Rocky Mountain director for Defenders of Wildlife:

“Governor Schweitzer’s frustration over the wolf issue is understandable. I think we’re all frustrated the issue hasn’t been resolved the way we think it should. But frustration is not a good basis for wildlife management, science is, and there is no science behind this decision.

“We agree that it’s time to move toward removing wolves from the endangered species list. But it should be done in a scientifically rational and legal manner that ensures we will have a healthy population of wolves into the future, and that doesn’t cripple the Endangered Species Act.”

“The lack of science behind wolf recovery is our main frustration, and extreme actions like this highlight our concern – that states will hammer wolves to the maximum extent possible, rather than responsibly managing them. If the Schweitzer Administration, which until now has been the most responsible in the region in managing wolves, is going to whack wolves this hard, imagine what the next governor could do. This is why we need wolf recovery numbers based in science not politics – so that wolf recovery will continue and a great conservation success story will not be lost.

“Ranchers already have the ability to protect their livestock from legitimate threats, and they often do so by taking proactive steps to prevent conflict and by killing wolves when they do attack. But endorsing unchecked wolf-killing in the name of livestock protection opens the door to all sorts of abuse. Anti-wolf groups have already responded by telling their followers to ‘lock and load.’

“Montana has done a good job so far of managing wolves, even while the species is protected under federal law. But the claim that wolves in Montana are decimating elk and putting ranchers out of business is not borne out by the facts.”


According to the latest reports from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, there were more than 2.5 million cattle and nearly 250,000 sheep in Montana in 2010 (see detailed cattle report, sheep report). According to Montana’s latest annual wolf report, there were at least 524 wolves in the state in 2009. That year, a total of 97 cattle and 202 sheep were confirmed as losses to wolves. In response, 145 wolves were killed—135 by USDA’s Wildlife Services and 10 by private individuals protecting their livestock. A total of $141,462 was paid out to ranchers in Montana for 367 confirmed and “probable” losses.


There are an estimated 150,000 elk in Montana (see Elk Forecast 2010). According to end-of-season reports from FWP, overall hunter harvest was on par with the long-term average across the region. Elk harvest in particular was up this year in the Bitterroot Valley.


Read the text of Gov. Schweitzer letter

Read more about what Defenders is doing to protect wolves


Mike Leahy, (406) 586-3970
John Motsinger, (202) 772-0288