Saturday, February 10, 2007

Senate swiftly endorses wolf, grizzly hunting

HELENA(AP) - The Senate overwhelmingly endorsed a plan Thursday to allow wolf and grizzly bear hunting once those animals are removed from federal protection.

A bill by Sen. Joe Balyeat, R-Bozeman, was given nearly unanimous preliminary approval in the Senate. Only Sens. Dan Harrington, D-Butte, and Carol Juneau, D-Browning, voted against the measure. It will most likely pass the Senate and be sent to the House for further debate.

Wolves were reintroduced to the Northern Rockies a decade ago after being hunted to near-extinction. More than 1,200 now live in the region, and Balyeat said the wolves are not only threatening to wipe out the elk population in that area but also are posing a threat to humans as well. "We've got a big problem on our hands," he said.

Last week, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced plans to remove wolves from federal protections within the next year. Grizzlies surrounding Yellowstone National Park have been protected under the Endangered Species Act for 30 years, but they could be removed from federal protections in a matter of months, according to the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks.

Balyeat's bill creates wolf-hunting licenses for residents and out-of-state hunters and sets up an annual lottery for wolf and grizzly tags.

Wolf tags would cost $19 for residents and $350 for out-of-state hunters under the measure. Grizzly licenses are already included in state law and cost $50 for residents and $300 for nonresidents.