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Groups challenge Montana wolf hunting, trapping regulations

| January 28, 2022 7:00 AM

HELENA, Mont. (AP) — Two wildlife advocacy groups are challenging changes to Montana's wolf hunting and trapping regulations, arguing they were made without public comment.

Trap Free Montana Public Lands and Wolves of the Rockies filed the lawsuit in December and asked a judge to eliminate the use of infrared and other night hunting aids and to prevent the Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks from allowing aerial hunting and spotting for wolves. They're asking for a temporary restraining order until the case can be decided. A hearing date has not been set.

"At no point did FWP provide written public notice that they were considering adding various methods of night hunting for wolves, or that they would remove the aerial spotting provisions," the lawsuit states.

On Tuesday, state lawmakers received an update on pending litigation against environmental agencies. FWP Chief Legal Counsel Becky Dockter said the agency would deny the claims in their answer to the complaint, the Montana State News Bureau reported.

The agency and its commission created the rules based on legislation that sought to reduce Montana's wolf population to "sustainable" levels.

The legislation said the commission may enact certain regulations in areas where wolf densities are highest, including "hunting on private lands outside daylight hours with the use of artificial light or night vision scopes." However, the lawsuit said the use of night vision aids was not included in draft rules.

The lawsuit also says a prohibition against hunting or spotting wolves from aircraft, which was included in the 2020 rules, was removed from the 2021 regulations without public comment.

Both changes violate Montana's legal requirements for public participation during the decision-making process, the advocacy groups argued.

Legislatures in Montana and Idaho last year enacted laws allowing the killing of more wolves through expanded trapping and hunting, leading wildlife advocates, Native American tribes and Democratic lawmakers to seek additional protections for gray wolves.