HELENA, Mont. — A judge on Tuesday lifted a temporary restraining order limiting the hunting and trapping of wolves in the state, saying there is nothing to suggest that existing rules will make wolf populations unsustainable in the short term.
District Judge Christopher Abbott also rejected concerns raised by environmental groups that hunting up to six wolves outside Yellowstone National Park this season could harm the park’s wolf population and conservation efforts.
“We are devastated that the court has allowed countless more wolves, including Yellowstone wolves, to be killed under the unscientific laws and regulations that we are challenging,” Lizzy Pennock, WildEarth Guardians carnivore coexistence advocate, said in a statement with headquarters in Montana.
“We will continue to fight for Montana wolves in the courtroom as our case continues and out of the courtroom in every way,” he said.
The decision overturns a temporary restraining order Abbott issued on Nov. 16 reducing individual bag limits from 20 to five and blocking the use of traps.
Hunting rules established by the Fish, Wildlife and Parks Commission in August take effect immediately, the agency said, which include allowing people to take up to 10 wolves by hunting and 10 by trapping. Trapping season opened on Monday.
“The state has a legitimate interest in wolves management…that explains all the interests at stake, including those of hunters and ranchers,” Abbott wrote.
Abbott heard testimony Monday in a lawsuit brought by WildEarth Guardians and the Coyote Project, which argued that the state changed the method it uses to estimate the wolf population in a way that the groups believe leads to an overestimate. The population estimate informs hunting quotas.
But Abbot said the state’s population estimates were not so unreliable that this year’s quota of 456 wolves would do irreparable damage.
Montana’s wolf population is estimated at just over 1,100, a number that has held steady for the past few years, despite 329 wolves being taken in 2021, Abbott said.
The 2021-22 quota was set at 450 with no cap set near Yellowstone Park. Twenty-three wolves from the park were killed last winter, including one by Montana Governor Greg Gianforte.
Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks officials said Monday the state set this year’s quotas based on a 2021 law passed by the legislature that required the Fish and Wildlife Commission to reduce the number of wolves in Montana and allow hunters to use traps. .
Idaho is among other states that have also loosened wolf hunting rules at the behest of hunters and ranchers.
As of Tuesday, Montana hunters had killed 69 wolves since the season began in September.
The dispute over Montana’s wolf hunting season comes as conservationists have pushed for the animals to be restored to more areas beyond currently occupied wolf habitat in the northern US Rocky Mountains, the southwestern and western Great Lakes.
The Center for Biological Diversity filed a lawsuit in the US District Court in Washington on Tuesday to compel federal officials to write a national recovery plan for gray wolves that includes potential habitat in the states of the west coast, southern Rocky Mountains, and northeast.
Wolves were exterminated in most of the US in the 1930s under government-sponsored poisoning and trapping campaigns. They were reintroduced from Canada to the Rocky Mountains of the northern US in the 1990s and have recovered in areas of the Great Lakes.
The mountains and forests of Idaho, Montana and Wyoming have become strongholds for wolf populations since reintroduction, helping fuel the species’ expansion in recent years into parts of Oregon, Washington state and California.
The animals were removed from the federal list of endangered species in the region in 2011.
Last year, advocates petitioned the US Fish and Wildlife Service to restore endangered protections for wolves in the western US. The Biden administration said in a preliminary finding last September that protections for wolves may need to be reinstated because new laws in Idaho and Montana pose a potential threat. wolves throughout the region.