Groups threaten to sue over Montana’s wolf trapping laws due to potential threat to Canada lynx

By: - August 8, 2023 4:09 pm

Canada Lynx or Lynx canadensis, (Photo via Flickr Creative Commons by ucumari).

Two Montana conservation groups have told federal authorities that they plan to sue within 60 days if the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service doesn’t reconsider its agreement with the state regarding exporting wolf pelts.

The Center for Biological Diversity and Trap Free Montana allege that multiple and substantial changes to Montana’s wolf hunting laws should cause the agency to re-evaluate its support of the program, because the new regulations could wind up harming the rare Canada lynx, an endangered species.

Originally approved in 2014, the federal government signed off on Montana’s wolf hunting programs, determining that a modified wolf hunting season with limited trapping would likely only result in several unintentional deaths of Canada lynx – an anticipated 10 lynx in 10 years with only one expected to be fatal.

Instead, the Center for Biological Diversity and Trap Free Montana argue that changes made to the laws, including much broader and longer wolf hunting regulations, should trigger an automatic re-evaluation of the agreement.

In 2021, the Montana Legislature passed and Gov. Greg Gianforte approved a bill that allowed residents to use snares to trap wolves, and it expanded the wolf-hunting season. The groups said introducing wolf snaring into lynx habitat is problematic, as was the expansion of the trapping season by 31 days. Originally, the groups argued the wolf hunting season was wrapped up in order to lessen the impact on the lynx.

“While the (Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission) prohibited wolf snaring on public lands in lynx protection zones, these revised rules continue to allow wolf snaring on private lands, where nontargets like lynx (or grizzly bears) could be captured,” the complaint said.

The original 2014 biological opinion of the Fish and Wildlife Service also approved a wolf hunting season that ran from Dec. 15 through Feb. 28. However, changes the legislature made added more than two weeks on both sides of the dates.

The groups also charge that the new rules eliminated setback rules for traps to make it easier for hunters or trappers on motorized vehicles, like snowmobiles. The biological opinion that was originally formalized called for setbacks of 150 feet from the road.

Finally, the groups say that an expansion of snaring on public and private lands by the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks should trigger a reconsideration of the Endangered Species Act. In it’s letter, the groups said approximately one-third of all lynx habitat in Montana is on public land.

“The Fish and Wildlife Service ignored the fact that Montana’s horrifying new trapping regulations have widespread environmental consequences, including harming rare and beautiful lynx,” said Sophia Ressler, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Allowing even more of Montana’s wolves to be trapped and tortured puts lynx and other wildlife in the crosshairs of the state’s war on wolves. That’s simply unacceptable.”

Editor’s note: This story was updated on Aug. 8 to reflect that the Montana FWP expanded snaring to both public and private lands.

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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.