Judge halts part of Montana wolf hunting

Hunting would affect areas surrounding Yellowstone and Glacier national parks

By: - November 16, 2022 1:45 pm

Photo of a wolf (Photo via Flickr | CC-BY-SA 2.0).

A Helena judge has temporarily halted part of Montana’s wolf hunting rules after two groups filed a lawsuit challenging the state’s expanded wolf hunting program, established by the 2021 Legislature.

Tuesday, Lewis and Clark District Court Judge Christopher Abbott issued a temporary restraining order effective immediately that would stop snaring, cutting back the wolf hunting in areas around Yellowstone and Glacier national parks, and set the “bag limit,” or number of wolves that can be killed, back to 2020 standards.

The revised rules that have been provided by the FWP are:

  • Reinstitutes the quotas for Wolf Management Unit 110, 313, 316 as they existed in the 2020 wolf regulations, which are 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 harvested in WMU 316 and 110. Wolf hunting and trapping in WMU 313 is now closed.
  • Restricts all hunters and trappers to harvesting five wolves total per person, per season.
  • Prohibits the use of snares as a legal method of take for trapping wolves.

The ruling also set up a hearing on Nov. 28 to discuss whether the temporary injunction should be converted to a longer one, pending the outcome of the case.

The two groups, WildEarth Guardians and Project Coyote, have asked the court to strike down new wolf hunting rules that were passed by the 2021 Legislature, saying they’re unlawful on a number 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 that does not rely on field surveys, a fact the groups argue should render the hunting quotas illegal because they don’t live up to the science promised in the state’s wolf management plan.

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

In his order, Abbott pointed out that the court was making no determination on the legal validity of the groups’ claims; rather the law was clear about when a temporary injunction should be issued, including when irreparable harm could be done, as in the case of hunting animals.

“Plaintiffs have also identified practices that may accelerate the taking of wolves prior to a hearing in this matter in ways that could impede the court’s ability to provide effective relief should it ultimately agree with the plaintiffs,” Abbott’s order said.

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

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

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

“The Wolf Harvest Dashboard … currently reflects only 56 harvested wolves to date, only 12% of the 456-wolf quota,” Abbott said. “This suggests that at least some hunting activity can continue to proceed without severe impacts on wolf populations at least long enough to afford the state an opportunity to be heard.”

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

“We collectively breathed a sigh of relief when we saw this order, knowing that Yellowstone’s wolves – and wolves across the state – will have some protections in place while we wait for their day in court,” said Lizzy Pennock, the Montana-based carnivore coexistence advocate at WildEarth Guardians.

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



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Darrell Ehrlick
Darrell Ehrlick

Darrell Ehrlick is the editor-in-chief of the Daily Montanan, after leading his native state’s largest paper, The Billings Gazette. He is an award-winning journalist, author, historian and teacher, whose career has taken him to North Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Utah, and Wyoming. With Darrell at the helm, the Gazette staff took Montana’s top newspaper award six times in seven years. Darrell's books include writing the historical chapters of “Billings Memories” Volumes I-III, and “It Happened in Minnesota.” He has taught journalism at Winona State University and Montana State University-Billings, and has served on the student publications board of the University of Wyoming.