Trapping, tracking integral to FWP's wolf management
NBC Montana got a firsthand peek at how state wildlife managers collect some of the data used to help determine future wolf policy.
We traveled to a private ranch in Park County to talk to Fish, Wildlife and Parks about what they hope to find with the traps they're setting.
FWP wolf management specialist Abigail Nelson just set her eighth trap on a private ranch in Park County.
"I like these traps because they have a serrated rubber jaw. It deadens the impact and is a little more friendly on their feet," Nelson explains.
Her next step is to make sure it's completely hidden. Nelson explains the entire process takes a while. The trap is secured to the ground. If it moves, the wolf could become suspicious and dig it up.
She says she's lucky if she catches one wolf, but even one wolf can give Nelson a lot of information about its pack once it's collared.
"We can get up in the air in a tracking plane, get a bird's eye view of that pack, count the number of wolves. If they're reproducing, we can get that type of information, which is really helpful," Nelson says.
Folks with FWP say the VFW collar is one of their most important management tools. It's used to monitor population and conflicts with livestock. It emits a radio frequency and the battery lasts four to five years.
"This pack, everywhere they go pretty much, they encounter livestock and so, I would, personally, like to have a better handle on where they're going and we can follow up and monitor their movements a little more closely when we have livestock out," Nelson explains.
FWP says livestock depredation is down -- in part due to cattle producer education and techniques FWP is teaching, like loud noises and hazing. FWP representatives say, in some cases, lethal removal is an acceptable form of management.
"Gone unchecked, wolves will repeat their activities and that is something we can help reduce the likelihood of by collaring and targeting specific wolves," says FWP spokesperson Andrea Jones.
Jones explains they have an adaptive management technique, that is adapting trapper and hunter quotas based on the data folks like Nelson collect.
"I'm really dedicated to getting good, on the ground information because I think it's really important to have strong data so that, as we go forward into new management techniques like hunting and trapping, we have a good idea of where the population is going and how it's responding to those tools," explains Nelson.
FWP officials say cooperation with landowners is a crucial in understanding every aspect of population dynamics, tracking wolves and conflict situations.
They tell us wolves in the Paradise Valley spend most of their time on private land and most of that territory includes grazing land.