Montana officials urge judge to raise wolf kill limit

HELENA, Mont. (AP) — Montana officials asked a judge Monday to lift a restraining order restricting wolf hunting and trapping because of fears that too many of the animals could be killed this winter.

The hearing before U.S. District Judge Chris Abbott in Helena comes as Montana and other Republican-led states have moved in recent years to make it easier to kill predators. Montana’s relaxed wolf hunting rules drew sharp criticism after 23 wolves in Yellowstone National Park were killed last winter, including 19 by Montana hunters and trappers.

Conservationists sued the state in October over its regulations, which authorize the killing of 456 wolves statewide this winter, including a new quota of just six wolves north of Yellowstone.

Yellowstone National Park Superintendent Cam Sholly last winter asked Republican Gov. Greg Gianforte to stop hunting outside the park. Gianforte argued at the time — and the state continues to argue in its response to the lawsuit — that if wolves leave Yellowstone and enter Montana, they can be hunted under state law.

Abbott on Nov. 16 granted a temporary restraining order limiting wolf hunting to just two animals outside of Yellowstone and temporarily reducing the number of wolves a person can kill during the season from 20 to five. He also limited the number that could be killed near Glacier National Park and temporarily banned the use of neck traps during the trapping season that began Monday.

Abbott is considering whether those restrictions should continue while the case is heard or whether the wolf hunting rules approved by the state in August should be reinstated.

Gianforte criticized the judge, saying Abbott “overstepped his bounds to align himself with extreme activists” when he granted the restraining order.

Gianforte trapped and killed a radio-collared Yellowstone wolf last year on private land near the park. He was later given a warning for a state hunting violation by failing to take a mandatory trapper education course before killing the wolf.

The groups that filed the lawsuit, WildEarth Guardians and Project Coyote, argue that Montana’s wolf hunting quota was set based on an erroneous population estimate and that the state’s hunting laws amended the state’s 2002 wolf plan without going through establishing rules. proceedings and public comments.

The Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks maintains that its wolf plan is not an administrative rule and that the population estimate process is a more accurate version than a previous process that the organizations never challenged.

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