Montana judge lifts injunction restricting wolf hunt

A US judge has lifted an injunction restricting the hunting and trapping of wolves in the state of Montana, saying there is nothing to suggest the rules now in place will make wolf populations unsustainable in the short term.

District Judge Christopher Abbott also dismissed concerns from environmental groups that cutting down up to six wolves outside of Yellowstone National Park this season could harm the wolf population and the park’s conservation efforts.

Lizzy Pennock, Montana-based carnivore coexistence advocate at WildEarth Guardians, said of the ruling: “We are devastated that the court has allowed countless more wolves – including Yellowstone wolves – to live under the unscientific laws and Rules that we contest are killed.

“We will continue to fight for the Wolves of Montana in the courtroom as our case proceeds, and outside of the courtroom in every way.”

The decision reverses an injunction Judge Abbott issued Nov. 16 to reduce individual bag limits from 20 to five and to block the use of sling traps.

Hunting rules established by the US Fish, Wildlife and Parks Commission in August take effect immediately, the agency said, including permission to take up to 10 wolves by hunting and 10 by traps.

The fishing season started on Monday.

Wolves in Wyoming
The Junction Butte wolf pack in Yellowstone National Park (National Park Service via AP, File)

Judge Abbott wrote, “The state has a legitimate interest in the management of wolves … that takes into account all the interests at stake, including those of hunters and ranchers.”

The official heard testimony Monday in a lawsuit filed by WildEarth Guardians and the Coyote Project, which argued the state changed the way it estimates the wolf population in a way that the groups believe leads to an overestimate.

The population estimate provides information on hunting quotas.

But Judge Abbot said the state’s population estimates are not so unreliable that this year’s quota of 456 wolves would cause irreparable damage.

Montana’s wolf population is estimated at just over 1,100, a number that has remained constant in recent years, although 329 wolves were captured in 2021, Judge Abbott noted.

The 2021-22 quota has been set at 450 with no limits set near Yellowstone Park. Last winter, 23 park wolves were killed, including one by Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte.

Idaho is among other US states that have also relaxed wolf hunting rules at the urging of hunters and ranchers.

As of Tuesday, Montana’s hunters had killed 69 wolves since the season began in September.

The argument over Montana’s wolf hunting season comes as conservationists urge the animals to be restored in more areas beyond currently occupied wolf habitat in the northern US Rockies, Southwest and western Great Lakes.