By Laura Zuckerman
July 10 (Reuters) - Montana wildlife officials on Wednesday approved a measure that nearly doubles the number of wolves a person can kill each year and extends the length of the state's hunting season, angering conservationists.
The plan adopted by the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Commission raises the number of wolves a person can kill in a given calendar year to 10, from the previous limit of six.
The commission also extended the state's hunting season by a month. The season, which begins in September, will close at the end of March, instead of February.
That means the hunting season will coincide with much of the 63-day gestation period of female wolves in the Northern Rockies, according to Montana wildlife biologists.
The increase in per-person harvests and extension of the upcoming wolf hunting season in Montana has reignited a debate over the animals just weeks after the U.S. government proposed stripping gray wolves of certain federal protections.
Wolves in Montana and Idaho were removed from the federal threatened and endangered species list in 2011. Gray wolves in Wyoming and the western Great Lakes region were delisted in 2012. Since then, hunters have killed hundreds of wolves amid increasingly relaxed hunting rules that conservationists say prove states see the animals as nuisances.
"We're going to see a lot of dead wolves," Marc Cooke, president of Wolves of the Rockies in Montana, said on Wednesday.
Ranchers and hunters, who blame wolves for preying on livestock and big-game animals such as elk, applauded the measures for providing greater leeway to cull a state wolf population estimated at 625.
"It makes it easier for people to take more wolves in more places and that's helpful to ranchers trying to protect livestock," Montana Stockgrowers Association spokeswoman Ariel Overstreet said.
The Montana wolf plan adopted for the upcoming hunting and trapping season did not include a controversial proposal to allow wolves near baited traps to be shot and killed.
That provision was stripped after stirring controversy in Montana, which forbids hunters from attracting game with bait.
The Montana legislature this year passed a law banning the creation of a no-hunting zone where state or private land borders Yellowstone National Park. Wolves are protected in Yellowstone, but can be hunted once they leave the park. (Reporting by Laura Zuckerman in Salmon, Idaho, Editing by Alex Dobuzinskis, Edith Honan and Stacey Joyce)