Likelihood of Lawsuit Leaves Montana’s Wolf Hunt in Question

By Beacon Staff

HELENA (AP) – The framework for Montana’s inaugural wolf hunt has approval of state wildlife commissioners, but the agency they oversee is not on the brink of issuing permits to hunters.

Commissioners approved some wolf-hunt regulations Wednesday, pending the U.S. Interior Department’s removal of Northern Rockies gray wolves from the endangered-species list. The federal agency announced “delisting” on Thursday. However, the possibility that opponents of the decision will file a lawsuit keeps a lid on Montana’s plans for a wolf hunt, said Carolyn Sime, wolf biologist for the state Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks.

“If the (opposition) groups do file for an injunction, we may or may not be hunting in the fall,” Sime said.

“We’re prepared, we’re ready to go with the season,” she said. “But a little more dust has to settle before we know for sure.”

Groups against delisting reiterated Thursday that a lawsuit is in the works.

If removal from the endangered-species list stands, then wolf management will shift from the federal government to Montana, Idaho and Wyoming, the states where wolves were reintroduced in 1995.

The hunting supported by the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Commission allows wolves to be killed with guns or with bows and arrows. No trapping, a particularly controversial method of taking animals, would occur during the first two years of the hunt. Commissioners said they would consider setting regulations for trapping after that time.

Since reintroduction in 1995, the wolf population in the three-state region has grown to more than 1,500 animals. Montana has about 400 wolves in 85 packs.

There have been repeated cases of wolf attacks on livestock in the Northern Rockies. Montana officials say hunting is part of a larger wolf-management plan. Idaho and Wyoming also have management plans. Officials in those states have discussed hunting but have not set regulations.

Montana commissioners said the number of wolves that hunters will be allowed to take will be set later. State wildlife officials want to maintain at least 15 breeding pairs, five more than specified in the federal plan for delisting.

Except in certain backcountry areas, the fall hunting season would begin Oct. 26, the opening date for most deer and elk hunting in Montana. The wolf and big-game seasons would end at the same time, in late November.