Montana’s Fish, Wildlife and Parks Commission today approved a wolf hunting season for 2011 that creates 14 wolf management units and an overall harvest quota of 220 wolves.

“The approved hunting season is very similar to the one considered last year,” said Ken McDonald, FWP’s chief of wildlife.”It’s based on wildlife science and we believe it’s properly balanced. Our management objective is very clear: we must maintain a viable and connected wolf population as we aim to reduce impacts on Montana’s wildlife and livestock. With the ability to manage wolves as we do all other wildlife in Montana we’re confident we can meet those expectations.”

For the upcoming seasons, hunters will have the opportunity to hunt for 220 wolves in 14 WMUs that are generally situated in the western portion of Montana. A new WMU in the Bitterroot Valley was added to an area where wolves appear to be contributing to a significant drop in the elk population.

Commissioners had approved a harvest quota of 186 wolves across 13 wolf management units for the 2010 season, which was blocked by a federal court. Montana’s first and only regulated wolf hunt took place in 2009 when 72 wolves were taken by hunters, three fewer than the established quota.

“We learned from the 2009 hunt that there was a need to be more surgical in directing the wolf harvest toward areas where elk, deer and livestock depredations are an issue,” McDonald explained.”So we made adjustments and developed smaller-sized wolf management units each with their own quota.”

In addition, the commission approved specific quotas or subquotas in three areas aimed at limiting harvest during early-season backcountry hunts, including the area directly north of Yellowstone National Park. A motion to add two areas directly north of Yellowstone National Park to the three-wolf subquota for WMU 390 was also approved by the commission. The areas encompass deer and elk hunting districts 313 and 316. Also approved was a wolf archery season, which will run Sept. 3 through Oct. 16. Those dates coincide with Montana’s deer and elk archery seasons.

McDonald said a harvest quota of 220 is projected to reduce the wolf population to a minimum of 425 wolves, or by about 25 percent. These projections include anticipated reductions due to livestock depredation and mortalities from other events, like accidents and natural causes.

“As wildlife managers, we have an exceptional Montana-based wolf conservation and management plan to guide us and we’re continuing to learn from practical experience,” McDonald said. “We’ll learn more this season and we’ll apply what we learn to ensure that Montana maintains a balance among all wildlife, their habitats and the people who live, work, and recreate here.”

Wildlife officials documented that a minimum of 566 wolves, in 108 verified packs, and 35 breeding pairs inhabited the state at the end of 2010.

The congressional measure passed this spring that removed gray wolves from the list of endangered species in Montana, Idaho, and parts Oregon, Washington and Utah was challenged in federal district court in Missoula in May. A final court ruling hasn’t been issued.