Wildlife advocacy groups sue FWP over wolf hunting regulations

The groups allege the regulations were instituted without proper public notice

By: - January 26, 2022 4:42 pm

A gray wolf (Photo by MacNeil Lyons/United States Fish and Wildlife, Midwest Region via Flickr/CC-BY-SA 2.0)

A pair of wildlife advocacy groups are asking a judge to toss out a handful of wolf hunting regulations they say were illegally instituted without proper public participation.

The lawsuit, filed in December, alleges that Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, and the Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission improperly instituted wolf hunting regulations on how wolves can be hunted at night and illegally rescinded a prohibition on aerial assistance while hunting wolves.

“In the past, we have always had a Montana FWP commission that would listen to our issues,  Marc Cooke with Wolves of the Rockies said in an email. “We no longer have that option and have had to turn to litigation to resolve our concerns.”

Senate Bill 314, sponsored by Sen. Bob Brown, R-Thompson Falls, allowed the Fish and Wildlife Commission to adopt regulations allowing the hunting of wolves “on private lands outside of daylight hours with the use of artificial light or night vision scopes.” The bill also directed Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks and the commission to reduce Montana’s wolf population to “sustainable” levels.

The lawsuit alleges that the options presented to the public regarding the changes outlined in SB314 only spoke about hunting wolves “outside of daylight hours” and did not include language about how wolves can be hunted, like using night-vision goggles. But, according to the lawsuit, the final rules adopted by the commission in August read, “Wolves can be hunted on private lands outside of daylight hours with the use of artificial light, thermal technology or night vision scopes.”

Additionally, the lawsuit alleges FWP removed regulations regarding aerial spotting of wolves without written public notice.

“At no point did FWP provide written public notice that they were considering adding various methods of night hunting for wolves, or that they would remove the aerial spotting provisions,” the lawsuit reads. “Based on the lack of notice, failure to follow the administrative rules, and inconsistency with state law, the additional methods of hunting wolves at night are unlawful. So is the permissible use of aerial spotting.

FWP did not respond to a request for comment on the lawsuit by time of publication.

The plaintiffs in the case are Trap Free Montana and Wolves of the Rockies, two groups that were vocal in their opposition to a handful of wolf hunting and trapping bills aimed to reduce wolf populations passed during the most recent legislative session. The defendants are the state’s Fish, Wildlife and Parks as well as the Fish and Wildlife Commission.

The groups are asking a Lewis and Clark County District Judge to invalidate the wolf hunting regulations that allow for night hunting on private land with artificial light, infrared imaging, thermal imaging or night vision scopes, and bar aerial assistance when hunting of wolves. The plaintiffs are also asking the judge to temporarily block the regulations while the case is litigated.

The FWC  is meeting this week to review the wolf hunting and trapping seasons in FWP Region 3 as harvest in the region nears the review threshold it set in August.

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Keith Schubert
Keith Schubert

Keith Schubert was born and raised in Wisconsin and graduated from the University of Minnesota in 2019. He has worked at the St.Paul Pioneer Press, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and most recently, the Asbury Park Press, covering everything from local craft fairs to crime and courts to municipal government to the Minnesota state legislature. In his free time, he enjoys cheering on Wisconsin sports teams and exploring small businesses. Keith is no longer a reporter with the Daily Montanan.