A gray wolf (Getty Images).
A Helena judge said he will issue a decision Tuesday after hearing arguments over Montana’s wolf hunting regulations on Monday.
Defendant Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks and plaintiffs WildEarth Guardians and Project Coyote, both environmental nonprofits, argued over a motion for a preliminary injunction in front of District Court Judge Christopher Abbott in what an attorney for the state called the “battle of the experts.”
This hearing comes on the eve of the expiration date for the temporary restraining order that stopped snaring, cut 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 following legislation that passed in the 2021 session. This limit restricts all hunters and trappers to harvesting five wolves total per person, per season.
FWP Chief of Staff Quentin Kujala said that understanding how wolf populations work in the state isn’t just a matter of subtraction, as packs grow after pups are born and reach their highest population at the end of summer just before harvest season.
“A way to think about it, and it may be overly simple, but trimming your hair,” Kujala said, adding he didn’t mean to make light of the rules. “It’s shorter, it’s less, and then it grows back. And if you’re going to keep it at that less, you have to trim again.”
But Michelle Lute with Project Coyote said practices like trapping and snaring are cheap, indiscriminate and “unsporting.”
“Unfortunately with snares, you know its purpose is to kill as many animals as possible through a very torturous method,” she said.
She explained what trappers call “Jelly head.”
“Sometimes what happens is lymph fluid and blood will fill the head and neck area of a slowly strangulating animal,” she said. “It’s got to be one of the most painful, horrible experiences an animal can go through.”
Lute also testified that animals that are not the intended target get caught in the snares often.
The hearing drew spectators Monday. Retired attorney Betsy Brandborg had to release her dog from traps on three occasions, and she said she attended to show FWP that the public was interested in participating in the process.
The groups that filed the lawsuit say FWP failed to update its 2002 wolf management plan and hasn’t included the public in the process.
“All the people at all these wolf advocacy organizations, regular Joes and the public, have opinions about this that aren’t actually being considered because they aren’t invited to the special meetings,” said plaintiff’s attorney Jessica Blome. “Their comments aren’t responded to.”
The suit challenges the way the state counts the number of gray wolves.
Montana FWP 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. FWP said Monday that they do conduct field surveys but that the goal is no longer to tally the total number of wolves, but to count the number of packs and territory size.
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