Big Sky Roundup

Judge says hunting, conservation coalition can participate in elk management lawsuit

By: - September 2, 2022 1:48 pm

Elk between Canyon Village and Norris in Yellowstone National Park (Wikimedia Commons)

A district court judge has ruled that a group of Montana hunting and conservation groups can intervene in a lawsuit concerning game management in Montana, according to a news release Thursday from the Montana Citizens’ Elk Management Coalition.

Tenth Judicial District Court Judge Heather Perry granted the groups’ motion to intervene on Wednesday afternoon, acknowledging the coalition’s standing in the suit filed this spring by the United Property Owners of Montana against Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks and the Fish & Wildlife Commission, the news release said.

Composed of Helena Hunters and Anglers, Hellgate Hunters and Anglers, Montana Backcountry Hunters & Anglers, Montana Bowhunters Association, Montana Wildlife Federation, Public Land Water Access Association and Skyline Sportsmen, the coalition called the lawsuit “an attack on wildlife management and Montana’s egalitarian hunting traditions.”

“The groups represent a broad array of interests and are committed to maintaining long-term, proven management that benefits all Montanans,” the news release said. “All have a strong record of public participation in decisions affecting Montana’s natural resources and hunting heritage.”

In the lawsuit, the United Property Owners of Montana allege FWP and the Fish and Wildlife Commission aren’t meeting their legal obligation to manage elk populations, and landowners have been damaged in the “crisis.” The plaintiff calls on the court to force FWP to devise an emergency plan to reduce the number of elk as soon as is practicable.

FWP generally denies that it hasn’t been responsive to landowner concerns and also argues the plaintiff failed to exhaust administrative remedies before going to court.

However, the intervening coalition alleges the plaintiffs in their lawsuit seek “a radical departure” from the law and from Montana’s heritage of managing fish and game for the public benefit. In the news release, coalition members praised the court’s decision to rule in favor of their request to participate in the case.

They have noted they represent more than 10,000 Montanans.  

“Montana Wildlife Federation appreciates that the court has recognized our standing as intervenors in this important case,” said Montana Wildlife Federation President and Board Chair Chris Servheen in a statement. “This case is about the public’s role in the management of elk and other wildlife in Montana. Elk are a public resource and should be managed using science in a fair and balanced public process.”

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