Montana officials Monday ended the first general wolf hunt in the southern part of the state just a day after it started, when the number of animals killed exceeded the season quota for the region.
The Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks earlier had suspended a backcountry hunt in a remote area north of Yellowstone National Park after nine gray wolves were shot.
That hunt raised controversy because four of the wolves belonged to Yellowstone’s much-studied Cottonwood pack -- including the alpha male and female. The predators were killed after they ventured outside the park.
An additional four wolves were shot in southern Montana after the general hunt started Sunday. The quota for that part of the state was 12 wolves.
Hunting will remain open through Nov. 29 in northern and western Montana, where 10 wolves out of the state’s overall quota of 75 have been shot. Wildlife officials have held out the option of extending the hunt through Dec. 31 if the quota isn’t met.
The gray wolves were reintroduced into Yellowstone in 1995. Conservationists sued after they were removed four months ago from the endangered species list in Montana and Idaho, arguing that their numbers could drop precipitously if hunting were allowed.
The Northern Rockies wolves remain protected in Wyoming.
Montana wildlife management officials have calculated that wolf numbers are likely to increase despite the hunt.
There are about 500 wolves in Montana. Even if 75 wolves are killed this year, officials expect there to be 590 in established packs across the state at this time next year, and 655 overall in 2010.