Wild Earth Guardians/Project Coyote MT Wolf Lawsuit

On October 27, 2022, attorneys for two environmental organizations, WildEarth Guardians and Project Coyote, a project of Earth Island Institute, filed a lawsuit against The State of Montana, by and through the MT Dept of Fish, Wildlife and Parks, and the MT Fish & Wildlife Commission. The suit was filed in MT First Judicial District Court in Lewis & Clark County.

The case named, WildEarth Guardians v. FWP, Cause No. DDV-25-2022 DK, alleges that the state’s wolf hunting and trapping policies violate the Montana Constitution, Montana Administrative Procedure Act, Public Trust Doctrine, and several federal laws meant to protect wildlife on federally-managed lands.

On November 10, 2022, a motion was filed asking The Court to prohibit the start of the state’s wolf-trapping season, as well as immediately halt the on-going wolf-hunting season, while the merits of the lawsuit are being considered. The conservation groups filed the time-sensitive motion with the wolf trapping and snaring season set to begin on November 28, 2022. The hunting season began in September. This motion asks the court to issue a temporary restraining order, followed by a preliminary injunction, to stop all recreational killing of wolves in the state pending resolution of the lawsuit.

On November 15, 2022, District Court Judge Christopher D. Abbott, granted a partial Temporary Restraining Order, with a hearing set for November 28, 2022. It’s set to expire November 29, 2022 at 5:00 p.m. The partial TRO requires MFWP to return to 2020 regulations with respect to wolf hunting and trapping quotas and “bag limits”, prohibits the use of snares, and limits quotas in former WMUs 110 (bordering Glacier NP), 313, and 316 (bordering Yellowstone NP).

In the 2021-2022 season, 273 wolves were killed by hunters and trappers—including 19 Yellowstone wolves—with nearly 70 percent of the wolves killed, after the trapping season began. As of November 15, 2022, hunters had already killed 56 wolves, while regulations permit hunters and trappers to kill an additional 395 wolves before the season ends in March 2023. The motion alleges that the conservation groups’ interests will be harmed beyond repair, if the court allows the hunting and trapping season to proceed while they fully litigate their case.

The motion—and the underlying lawsuit—claim that there are significant flaws in the population model used to estimate the total number of wolves in the state, and that since the quota of 456 wolves for this season relies upon a flawed population model, reaching the quota could have devastating consequences on the state’s wolf population. The motion states, “Montana does not have an accurate picture of how many wolves are living in Montana, and cannot sustainably and legally manage the species through another wolf hunt this winter.”

A listener asked us to investigate, and we share interviews with four people knowledgeable about the issues, Lizzy Pennock, an attorney with WildEarth Guardians;

Greg Lemon, Administrator of MFWP’s Communication and Education Division;

Pat Byorth, MT Fish & Wildlife Commissioner for Region 3, below

Michael Waasegijig Price, of The GREAT LAKES INDIAN FISH & WILDLIFE COMMISSION, which joined six tribes, who sued the state of Wisconsin in September of 2021 to prevent further wolf slaughter there.

Documents, articles and links pertinent to this episode of Ecotones:

To find out more: http://wildearthguardians.org and http://fwp.mt.gov

Judge rules against suspending Montana wolf hunts while lawsuit proceeds https://montanafreepress.org/2022/11/29/wolf-hunting-regulations-reinstated-while-lawsuit-proceeds/

Montana Judge Won’t Halt Gov. Greg Gianforte’s Aggressive Wolf Hunt https://theintercept.com/2022/11/30/wolf-hunt-montana-judge/

Wildlife advocates sue to stop unscientific, senseless wolf slaughter in Montana https://wildearthguardians.org/press-releases/wildlife-advocates-sue-to-stop-unscientific-senseless-wolf-slaughter-in-montana/#:~:text=HELENA%2C%20MONTANA%E2%80%94Conservation%20groups%20WildEarth%20Guardians%20and%20Project%20Coyote%2C,laws%20meant%20to%20protect%20wildlife%20on%20federally-managed%20lands.

Text of the lawsuit: https://pdf.wildearthguardians.org/support_docs/Montana-Lewis-and-Clark-First-Judicial-Wolf-Lawsuit-10-27-2022.pdf

Text of the motion for temporary restraining order & preliminary injunction https://pdf.wildearthguardians.org/support_docs/2022-11-10-Petitioners’-Brief-in-Support-of-Preliminary-Injunction.pdf

Judge restores gray wolf protections, reviving federal recovery efforts https://wildearthguardians.org/press-releases/judge-restores-gray-wolf-protections-reviving-federal-recovery-efforts/

MT Wolf Conservation & Management Planning Doc 2002 https://fwp.mt.gov/binaries/content/assets/fwp/conservation/wildlife-reports/wolf/mt-wolf-conservation-and-management-plan.pdf

The Administrative Procedure Act: How the public can drive agency regulations https://wildearthguardians.org/brave-new-wild/opinion/the-administrative-procedure-act-how-the-public-can-drive-agency-regulations/

Improving Estimation of Wolf Recruitment & Abundance, etc. https://fwp.mt.gov/binaries/content/assets/fwp/conservation/wildlife-reports/wolf/1-montana-wolf-monitoring-study-final-report-compressed.pdf

Defend gray wolves in Montana https://wildearthguardians.org/brave-new-wild/opinion/defend-gray-wolves-in-montana/

Integrating basic and applied research to estimate carnivore abundance https://esajournals.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/eap.2714

Montana Wolf Harvest https://experience.arcgis.com/experience/34fbb4c9509e45959f6291965388c345

One season, 456 dead wolves: that’s the reality in Montana right now https://wildearthguardians.org/brave-new-wild/opinion/one-season-456-dead-wolves-thats-the-reality-in-montana-right-now/

Wisconsin Tribes Sue the State for Treaty Violations Over Wolf Hunt https://earthjustice.org/news/press/2021/wisconsin-tribes-sue-the-state-for-treaty-violations-over-wolf-hunt

Into the History of Wolves https://intotheoutdoors.org/segments/into-the-history-of-wolves/

Indigenous activists look to Rights of Nature laws to stop fracking https://prismreports.org/2022/10/20/indigenous-rights-of-nature-stop-fracking/

FWP enforcement chief to retire after being placed on leave https://www.bozemandailychronicle.com/news/environment/fwp-enforcement-chief-to-retire-after-being-placed-on-leave/article_a7b7e3ae-91a3-5d69-a504-1327dfaee03f.html

The Fight to Stop Republicans From Killing Wolves and Grizzlies https://theintercept.com/2022/11/05/wolf-grizzly-bear-hunt-endangered/?utm_medium=email&utm_source=The%20Intercept%20Newsletter

In Reviewing Wolves’ Endangered Status, Martha Williams Confronts Her Montana Past https://theintercept.com/2022/09/29/wolves-endangered-species-martha-williams/

ROCKY MOUNTAIN MASSACRE: Was Yellowstone’s Deadliest Wolf in 100 Years an Inside Job? https://theintercept.com/2022/07/20/wolves-yellowstone-ranger-montana-greg-gianforte/

H.R. 6784 (115th): Manage our Wolves Act https://www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/115/hr6784

Prominent Scientists Push Back Against Delisting Grizzly Bears: Op-Ed https://mountainjournal.org/prominent-scientists-say-removing-grizzly-bears-from-federal-protection-in-west-is-bad-idea