Judge halts part of Montana wolf hunt

A Helena judge has temporarily suspended part of Montana’s wolf hunting rules after two groups filed a lawsuit challenging the state’s expanded wolf hunting program introduced by the state legislature in 2021.

Lewis and Clark District Court Judge Christopher Abbott issued an injunction effective immediately that would stop the snaring, limit wolf hunting in areas around Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks, and set the “bag limit,” or number of wolves killed can be , back to the standards of 2020.

The revised rules provided by the FWP are:

  • Restores the quotas for Wolf Management Units 110, 313 and 316 as they existed in the 2020 Wolf Regulations, which is two wolves in WMU 110 and one wolf each in WMU 313 and 316. Currently, one wolf has been harvested in WMU 313 and no wolves have been captured in WMU 316 and 110. Wolf hunting and trapping in WMU 313 is now set.
  • Limits all hunters and trappers to taking a total of five wolves per person per season.
  • Bans the use of snares as a legal method of capturing wolves.

The ruling also called for a hearing on November 28 to discuss whether the restraining order should be commuted to a longer one pending the outcome of the case.

The two groups, WildEarth Guardians and Project Coyote, have asked the court to reject new wolf-hunting rules passed by the 2021 legislature, saying they are unlawful on many counts.

The suit challenges the way the state counts the number of gray wolves. Recently, the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks adopted the iPOM model, which does not rely on field studies, a fact the groups argue should make hunting quotas illegal because they do not conform to the science used in the Wolf of the state has been promised management plan.

The lawsuit also states that the FWP failed to update its wolf management plan as required by law. And it says the way the state manages wolves could interfere with federal legislation that gives national parks the power to conserve their resources, which could include wolves.

In his order, Abbott noted that the court was not making a determination as to the validity of the groups’ claims, but rather the law made clear when an injunction should be granted, including when irreparable damage could result, as in this case of the Hunt Animals.

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“Plaintiffs have also identified practices that could expedite the capture of wolves before a hearing on this matter, in a way that could impair the court’s ability to provide effective relief should it ultimately agree with the plaintiffs,” according to Abbott’s order.

However, Abbott also refrained from making a blanket decision that would end all wolf hunting in the state. He pointed out that restraining orders are meant to preserve the status quo before the new laws and regulations are enacted.

“The complete cessation of wolf hunting does not appear to be the status quo,” he said.

He also said it was unfair to stop the hunt until the state had a chance to be heard.

“The Wolf Harvest Dashboard … currently reflects only 56 wolves harvested, just 12% of the 456 wolf quota,” Abbott said. “This suggests that at least some hunting activities can continue without a serious impact on wolf populations, at least long enough to give the state an opportunity to be heard.”

The organizations said they were relieved to be making progress on the case.

“We all breathed a sigh of relief upon seeing this order, knowing that the wolves of Yellowstone — and wolves across the state — will have taken some protective measures while we await their day in court,” said Lizzy Pennock, who Montana-based carnivore coexistence advocate with WildEarth Guardians.

But not everyone was so enthusiastic about the news. Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte took to social media to decry the decision as an example of an “activist judge.”

“The legislature makes laws, the Fish and Wildlife Commission makes rules based on those laws and science, and FWP implements those rules. Unfortunately, another activist judge crossed the line today to join forces with extreme activists,” Gianforte said in a tweet.

The Daily Montanan, like the Idaho Capital Sun, is part of States Newsroom, a network of news outlets supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Daily Montanan maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Darrell Ehrlick with any questions: [email protected]. Follow Daily Montanan on Facebook and Twitter.