BILLINGS – Gov. Brian Schweitzer says he doesn’t want a federal judge to side with environmental and animal rights groups who want to halt upcoming wolf hunts.
Schweitzer said Tuesday the state will take the issue “back to another judge” if U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy stops the upcoming wolf season in the Northern Rockies, which would mark the first public hunts for the predators in the lower 48 states in decades.
The hunts are set to begin Sept. 1 in parts of Idaho and two weeks later in Montana. The season concludes Nov. 29.
But Molloy on Monday granted a request by environmental and animal rights groups for a hearing on whether the courts should prevent the hunts.
The groups include Defenders of Wildlife and the Humane Society of the United States.
“If some old judge says we can’t (hunt wolves), we’ll take it back to another judge,” said Schweitzer, a Democrat.
Molloy scheduled the hearing for Monday, the day Montana wolf tags go on sale.
In March, Wolves in Montana and Idaho were taken off the endangered species list.
Both states authorized hunters to take 295 of an estimated 1,350 wolves. Montana has about 500 wolves, and their population increases annually by approximately 20 percent, said Joe Maurier, director of the state’s Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks.
The region’s livestock industry and some state officials have said hunting wolves is neccessary to manage their population and control attacks on livestock.
“No one is talking about huntint them into extinction,” Schweitzer told the Missoulian.
Just this month, a pack of wolves killed about 120 sheep on a ranch south of Dillon, Mont.
Last year, a record 601 cattle, sheep, llamas, dogs and other domestic animals in the Northern Rockies were killed by wolves.
Environmentalists say wolves remain threatened.
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