Montana sets this year's hunt quota at 186 wolves

Montana sets this year's hunt quota at 186 wolves
This undated image provided by the US Fish and Wildlife Service shows a gray wolf resting in tall grass. (AP Photo/US Fish & Wildlife/FILE)

HELENA, Mont. (AP) — Montana's wildlife commission on Thursday set the quota for this year's wolf hunt at 186, more than doubling last year's quota, with the aim of reducing the state's wolf population for the first time since being reintroduced to the Northern Rockies in 1995.

But whether a hunting season actually happens may be in the hands of a federal judge. U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy is expected to make a ruling after hearing arguments last month in a lawsuit brought by environmental groups seeking to restore Endangered Species Act protections for wolves in Montana and Idaho.

The Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Commission also created an archery hunt for 2010 and increased the number of management areas from three to 13 to have more control over the number of wolves killed in a given region.

Licenses go on sale next month for this fall's hunt, which is slated to run until Dec. 31. Montana wildlife chief Ken McDonald says if hunters meet the quota of 186, state numbers could drop from 524 wolves to between 411 and 488.

Ranchers and hunters say the wolf population has grown too high, which has led to more attacks on livestock and game.

After the federal government gave Montana and Idaho control over wolf management in those states last year, they held their first hunting seasons. Montana's hunt ended with 73 wolves killed and Idaho's with 185 killed, short of the quota of 220.

Wildlife officials in Idaho also are considering a higher quota for this year's hunt.

Federal protections remain in place for wolves in Wyoming, where the state law is considered hostile to the species' survival.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.