The clock is ticking on Montana's wolf hunt. Fish Wildlife and Parks says it looks like there won't be enough wolves killed to fill the state quota.
This season, hunters could kill up to 220 wolves. But as of Monday, only 162 wolves had been killed.
Individual quotas have been filled in just three of the 14 different management areas. Fish Wildlife and Parks had scheduled the hunt to end December 31, but extended it to February 15th in an effort to fill the quota.
F.W.P. will review strategies to help meet wolf hunting quotas in the future. It could propose reducing license fees or allowing hunters multiple wolf tags.
When the F.W.P. commission meets Thursday it could decide to extend the wolf hunt in the Westfork area near Darby. "They're going to be looking at a potential season extension up until April 1st for that area," said FWP's Vivaca Crowser, "and there's a sub quota in that area and right now we're at a harvest of six of 18."
Nowhere in Montana has the controversy over wolves been more contentious than the southern Bitterroot Valley. Wolf advocates have been battling ranchers and sportsmen for years. On the streets of Missoula, people are divided on the issue.
"I think if you have a quota to meet you should at least be able to meet it," said Matt McDaid. "I think if the animals are a nuisance you should be able to take care of that."
But Carmel Collum of Missoula disagrees. "We need the wolves to take care of the weak and sick part of the elk population to keep it healthy," said Collum.
Fish Wildlife and Parks is studying elk in the Westfork to get more details about what is affecting the animals. They say wolves are just one part of a larger picture, and they may need to adjust hunting quotas for other predators.
"Mountain lions have been a big part of the picture," said Crowser, " which is why we're looking at potentially a more liberal quota in the Westfork of the Bitterroot."
But it's the time of year F.W.P. expects predations by wolves to pick up.