Montana judge temporarily restricts wolf hunting
On Nov. 15, a judge in Montana announced a temporary order that brings state wolf hunting regulations back to 2020 quotas around Yellowstone National Park and Glacier National Park. Wolf, 313, 316 and 110 management units were all affected. Based on the new order, only two wolves in total can be captured in WMU 110 and only one wolf each in WMU 313 and 316. One wolf has already been harvested in WMU 113, which means the The order essentially closed that unit to hunting for the remainder of the season. The one-wolf quota replaced a 6-wolf quota for WMU 313, as well as more liberal quotas for other units, which had been rearranged prior to the 2021 season.
This temporary injunction comes after the Montana Fish & Wildlife Commission relaxed wolf hunting regulations in August 2021. The state then held a liberal 2021-2022 wolf hunting season in which 273 wolves were captured. statewide by hunters and trappers, including 18 in GMU 313, three in GMU 316, and zero in 10. During the season, some wolves that frequent Yellowstone were taken near the park. Although legal, the hunts have been controversial. “These wolves are part of our balanced ecosystem here and represent one of the special parts of the park that attracts visitors from around the world,” Yellowstone National Park Superintendent Cam Sholly said in September 2021. “We will continue to work with the state of Montana to advocate for the reinstatement of quotas that would protect the core wolf population in Yellowstone as well as Montana’s direct economic interests derived from the hundreds of millions spent each year by park visitors.
Despite the controversy, the Montana FWP recently reported that the statewide wolf population was stable through 2021. According to the Montana FWP, “The estimated wolf population in Montana at the end of 2021 was 1,141. This was only a drop of 40 wolves from 1,181 in 2020, which is not a statistically significant difference. Over the past 10 years, wolf populations have reached an estimated maximum of 1,256 in 2011 and a minimum of 1,113 in 2017. The small difference between these two numbers demonstrates a very stable population trend.
“We follow the law,” Montana FWP Director Hank Worsech said in a press release. “And are doing it in a way that provides certainty that Montana’s wolf populations will stay off the endangered species list.”
Anti-hunting groups are pushing for a total ban on wolf hunting in Montana
Plaintiffs in the case that prompted the state judge to temporarily reinstate some wolf hunting restrictions include Project Coyote and WildEarth Guardians. Anti-hunting groups are challenging Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, the State of Montana and the Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission – and seeking a permanent wolf hunting block in the state.
The group’s lawsuit overall makes several claims. The plaintiffs say “Montana has failed to manage the state’s wolves for the benefit of the public at large, in violation of the state’s public trust doctrine as enshrined in the constitution. of Montana”. They also claim that the FWP’s current population modeling assessment is inaccurate and has led the Fish and Wildlife Commission to allow overly aggressive quotas.
Judge Christopher Abbott said “based on the plaintiffs’ filings, they made colorful arguments that the state’s current wolf management practices may violate federal or state law.” His injunction suspends wolf hunting around national parks to ensure wolf kills do not limit “the court’s ability to provide relief, if relief is found to be warranted”. Importantly, Abbott did not hear the case in full, but said that “the complete cessation of wolf hunting [throughout the state] does not appear to be the status quo. Indeed, the applicants themselves acknowledge that prior to 2020, wolf populations remained stable despite hunting activity.
According to the National Park Service, “Yellowstone wolves in the northern range spend about 5% of their time outside the park, typically in late fall. For more than a decade, the state of Montana has limited the number of wolves taken from Montana Wolf Management Units 313 and 316, which are immediately adjacent to the park’s northern boundary.
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The Montana FWP will fight the injunction in court. “We have a healthy and stable wolf population in Montana,” said FWP director Hank Worsech. “We have proven that we can manage wolves statewide and we will continue to do so. We will comply with the judge’s order and look forward to the opportunity to champion sound science and management strategies.
In addition to restoring quotas, the injunction limits all hunters and trappers in Wyoming to five total wolves per person per season and prohibits the use of snares as a legal method of trapping wolves. Montana FWP will present legal arguments in this case at a hearing scheduled for November 28. The court’s temporary restraining order is due to expire on November 29.