BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — A Montana judge has temporarily restricted wolf hunting and trapping near Yellowstone and Glacier national parks and imposed tighter statewide limits on killing the predators, over concerns that looser hunting rules adopted last year in the Republican-controlled state could harm their population.
State officials authorized the killing of 450 wolves during the winter of 2021-22, but ended up shutting down hunting near Yellowstone National Park after 23 wolves from the park were killed, most of them in Montana.
Conservation groups last month sued over 2021 laws passed by the Legislature that were intended to curb gray wolf numbers by making it easier to kill them. The laws allowed the use of snares, which some consider inhumane, and led to rules that allow individuals to kill up to 20 wolves each — 10 from hunting and 10 from trapping.
Attorneys for WildEarth Guardians and Project Coyote argued that similar rules in place for this winter would hurt wolf populations and interfere with management of the animals on federal lands such as Yellowstone, where hunting is not allowed.
State District Court Judge Christopher Abbot on Tuesday ordered Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks to return to a limit of five wolves killed per person. He also blocked the use of snares when trapping season begins on Nov. 28, and reimposed sharp limits on hunting and trapping near the national parks.
The order is due to expire Nov. 29, but Abbot set a hearing on the matter for Nov. 28 in Lewis and Clark County.
“This is a promising step in the right direction, and we will continue using all means necessary to end the senseless, politically motivated slaughter of Montana’s beloved wolves,” said Lizzy Pennock, of WildEarth Guardians.
Montana wildlife officials said the changes ordered by Abbot would take effect immediately.
Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Director Hank Worsech said in a statement that the state has “proven we can manage wolves.”
“We will comply with the judge’s order and look forward to the opportunity to defend good science and management strategies,” he said.
Gov. Greg Gianforte criticized the ruling in a social media post, saying the judge “overstepped his bounds to align with extreme activists.”
Gianforte trapped and killed a radio-collared wolf from Yellowstone last year on private land near the park. He was later given a warning for violating state hunting rules by killing the wolf without first taking a mandatory trapper education course.