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Conservation groups sue over Montana wolf harvest rules

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HELENA—Two conservation groups have filed a lawsuit against the state of Montana and its wildlife management agency alleging it illegally set hunting and trapping policies and quotas intended to reduce the gray wolf population by making it easier to kill the predators.

WildEarth Guardians and Project Coyote filed the lawsuit Thursday in District Court in Helena asking for the new laws and resulting increased quotas to be overturned.

Montana’s Republican-controlled Legislature in 2021 passed bills that allowed the state to reduce the wolf population, authorize additional hunting methods, allow extended hunting seasons, allow an individual to kill up to 20 wolves and allow private parties to offer bounties for hunting or trapping wolves.

The conservation groups allege management decisions are being made based on a wolf plan that was created in 2002 and was amended to use a new wolf population model without following state rulemaking procedures and without public participation.

The state Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks does not comment on pending litigation, spokesperson Greg Lemon said Friday.

Montana 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 in Montana, Wyoming and Idaho. All but five of them were killed in Montana.

A total of 273 wolves were reported killed in Montana last winter. This year, Montana’s Fish and Wildlife Commission authorized the killing of 456 wolves, including just six in an area north of Yellowstone park. Hunters can take up to 20 wolves—10 by hunting and 10 by trapping.

The conservation groups argue this year’s quota constitutes up to 40% of the state’s wolf population.

Montana and Idaho changed their wolf hunting rules in 2021 urged by hunters and ranchers who wanted fewer wolves on the landscape. The changes included allowing night hunting with spotlights on private land, higher harvest limits, the use of snares and the use of bait.

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