Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks released its annual wolf population estimate recently. Short version: They think there are abut 900 wolves in the state now, up from 851 a year earlier . . .
There are roughly 900 wolves in Montana according to the 2017 Montana Gray Wolf Program Annual Report, the 13th consecutive year that Montana has exceeded wolf recovery goals.
FWP now estimates wolf numbers using a method called Patch Occupancy Modeling. The old way of trying to count wolves from an airplane became a less accurate picture of wolf numbers as the wolf population grew beyond the agency’s ability to count them. Additionally, the old method was expensive and took a lot of staff time.
FWP has used POM estimates along with the old minimum counts for several years. POM uses wolf sightings reported to FWP during annual deer hunter surveys, known wolf locations, habitat variables and research-based wolf territory and pack sizes to estimate wolf distribution and population size across the state. The most recent POM estimates were 961 wolves in 2015 and 851 in 2016. Data has been gathered for 2017 estimates and analysis will take place during summer 2018.
FWP fisheries biologists received well-deserved recognition for their efforts to restore the cutthroat trout population in the South Fork Flathead drainage . . .
The largest conservation project in the country aimed at restoring native westslope cutthroat trout has successfully reached its conclusion in the region, replenishing the waters of the South Fork Flathead River drainage upstream of Hungry Horse Dam with genetically pure populations of Montana’s state fish.
In doing so, the architects of the project, a band of dedicated state fisheries experts from the region, earned high honors from Montana’s governor, who this summer had occasion to ply some of the alpine lakes that now contain biologically superior populations of cutthroat.
On Sept. 25, Gov. Steve Bullock presented the Award for Excellence to Montana Fish Wildlife and Park’s Region One fisheries crew for their efforts to protect Montana’s last best stronghold for westslope cutthroat, a massive undertaking that began a decade ago under a cloud of controversy but emerged a resounding success.
Montana plans to change the way they count wolves. The Missoulian has the story. We’ve also included a link to the official Montana FWP press release discussing the subject . . .
Montana wildlife officials say the way they count wolves is too expensive and falls far short of an actual population estimate, so they plan to switch to a model that uses information gathered from hunters.
However, wildlife advocates say wolf numbers are declining and the switch could threaten the species’ survival. They worry the data is too unreliable to be used to manage the population.
The change, expected within the next three years after improvements to the model, will be cheaper than the annual wolf counts conducted now and provide a more accurate estimate of the total population, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks officials said.
On April 15, Montana’s full response to the invasive mussels begins statewide with more than 30 inspection stations, decontamination stations for boats leaving Tiber and Canyon Ferry Reservoirs and a broad outreach and education effort to help ensure people recreating on Montana’s waterways are practicing clean, drain and dry techniques at all times.
The biggest changes will be seen by those recreationists at Tiber and Canyon Ferry. In March, the Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission approved rules requiring boaters on Canyon Ferry and Tiber reservoirs to launch and exit at designated boat ramps, unless they are officially certified as local boaters on those specific waters by Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks.
While local boaters won’t be required to decontaminate their vessels with hot water each time they leave Tiber or Canyon Ferry – they’ll still be required to stop at an inspection station where they’ll be expedited through after a brief interview. The program is designed to decrease volume at decontamination stations and allow a focus on boats traveling elsewhere.
As part of the statewide effort to address the risks of invasive mussels, Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks plans to create a new bureau to manage the prevention, detection and control of aquatic invasive species within state borders.
The Aquatic Invasive Species Bureau will be housed in FWP’s Fisheries Division, with plans to be operational beginning in March. The agency began a nationwide recruitment for a bureau supervisor this week.
“Aquatic invasive species pose an enormous risk to Montana’s waters, economy, and way of life,” said Eileen Ryce, FWP Fisheries Division Administrator. “The increasing scope and complexity of managing these threats requires a more comprehensive approach.”
Responsibilities of the Aquatic Invasive Species Bureau will encompass all aspects of AIS prevention, including early detection, rapid response, control, outreach and vector management.
In October 2016, Montana’s first-ever detection of invasive mussel larvae showed up in Tiber Reservoir – and “suspect” detections turned up in Canyon Ferry Reservoir, the Missouri River below Toston Dam, and the Milk River. The discovery triggered a natural resource emergency in Montana and led to several recommend strategies to manage the threat of invasive mussels spreading to other areas.
In January, Montana’s Joint Mussel Response Implementation Team leaders presented a series of recommendations to the Montana Legislature to address prevention, detection and control efforts, including the creation of an AIS management bureau within FWP. Other recommendations included additional mandatory Montana watercraft inspection stations; deployment of watercraft decontamination stations at Tiber and Canyon Ferry reservoirs; and doubling sample collection to more than 1,500 taken from more than 200 waterbodies, all of which will fall under the management of the new bureau chief.
The AIS bureau chief will be responsible for the rapid response to AIS detections, which will often require coordination among multiple agencies, partners, and stakeholders, while mobilizing and redirecting resources to address threats. The Incident Command System, used in Montana under Gov. Steve Bullock’s natural resource emergency executive order last November, will become a standardized approach to the command, control, and coordination of emergency responses for specific AIS detections in the future.
Information on the AIS bureau chief position is available online at: Bureau Chief – https://mtstatejobs.taleo.net/careersection/200/jobdetail.ftl?job=17140292. Applications are due Feb. 28.
The Joint Mussel Response Implementation Team includes staff members from FWP, DNRC and other agencies. It is tasked with carrying out recommendation to further minimize the risk of spreading mussels to other Montana waters.
All boaters and anglers are urged take year-round precautions and to Clean, Drain and Dry their equipment after each use. For more information visit musselresponse.mt.gov or Montana Mussel Response on Facebook.
Uh, oh. More evidence of invasive mussel species in Montana’s waters . . .
Preliminary test results have indicated another possible detection of mussel larvae south of Canyon Ferry Reservoir in the Missouri River, although additional lab work is needed to confirm the detection.
Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks spokesman Greg Lemon said Monday evening that a water sample taken from the York Islands fishing access south of Townshend was found to be “suspect” during initial testing by state scientists. He said additional testing is needed to confirm whether the sample contained larvae from zebra or quagga mussels, two species of invasive mussel known to multiply aggressively and generate costly damage to aquatic ecosystems and infrastructure.
The finding comes about two weeks after mussel larvae, known as “veligers,” were confirmed for the first time in Montana waters at Tiber Reservoir. Another sample taken from upstream in Canyon Ferry was inconclusive, but a visual microscopy test indicated the veligers were present in that water body as well.
It’s that time of year. Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks is busy dealing with nuisance grizzlies as they fatten up ahead of winter hibernation. One two-year-old delinquent was captured near the county landfill and turned loose up the North Fork’s Whale Creek drainage . . .
Wildlife managers captured a 5- or 6-year-old, 365-pound, adult male grizzly bear above Lake Blaine on the east side of the Flathead Valley Oct. 19 after the bruin was reported to have been damaging fruit trees in the area.
Officials with Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks relocated the bear to the east side of Hungry Horse Reservoir. It was fitted with a GPS collar and had not been captured previously
Meanwhile, managers also caught a 2-year-old male grizzly across U.S. Highway 93 from the Flathead County Landfill after the bear was reportedly eating apples at a residence.
Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks, partner agencies and other organizations are prepared for white-nose syndrome (WNS), should it turn up in Montana’s bat population.
Washington state released news last week that WNS was detected recently in a bat discovered near North Bend, Washington. This marks the western most discovery of the disease, which has killed more than 6 million bats in eastern states since 2006. The disease was confirmed by the U.S. Geological Survey’s National Wildlife Health Center. WNS is not known to pose a threat to humans, pets, livestock or other wildlife.
WNS is a fungus that can be spread by bats, animals or humans carrying spores on their bodies, or in the case of humans, clothing and gear. In particular, recreational cavers traveling from one cave to another can transport the fungus on their boots, ropes or clothing.
However, an important partnership has developed between Montana agencies and the caving community decreasing the odds of humans spreading the disease here. In particular, the Northern Rocky Mountain Grotto has been working to educate their members and other cavers on the risks of spreading this disease and the importance of “clean caving.” Clean caving simply means adequately disinfecting gear between cave visits.