Citing the slowness of appealing a ruling, Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks decided against trying to stop the wolf hunt outside Yellowstone National Park for the rest of the season.
FWP commissioners canceled a conference call, scheduled for today, where they were to consider their response to a court order that overruled their decision to halt a small part of Montana’s wolf hunt.
FWP spokesman Ron Aasheim said the department decided not to challenge the order because the court process would take too long. With only a month remaining in the wolf hunt, it was unlikely that a hearing would be scheduled before the hunt was over.
“We have simply run out of time,” Aasheim said.
However, Aasheim said FWP still intended to challenge part of Park County District Judge Brenda Gilbert’s decision.
In her decision, Gilbert said FWP was prohibited from making further decisions closing or changing any wildlife season, unless they comply with Montana law. The law she was referring to was the requirement to provide the public with proper notice and ability to comment.
However, FWP commissioners have, on occasion, closed hunts when animal numbers dropped too low and they have the authority to do so.
“That’s how we’ve done things for decades,” Aasheim said. “We could have gone with an emergency closure instead, but we’re not in the business of making enemies.”
Commissioner Bob Ream said the question remaining now is whether this ruling has implications on their ability to implement emergency closures.
“It does set a precedent,” Ream said. “But the wolf is different from any other game animal.”
On Dec. 10, the commissioners had closed the hunt in two wolf management areas, a total of about 60 square miles, just north of the park.
The decision followed eight incidents where hunters shot radio-collared wolves that had ventured outside the park.
On Jan. 2, some hunting groups and the Citizens for Balanced Use sued in Park County District Court to lift the closure, which District Judge Nels Swandal lifted immediately.
A few weeks later, Gilbert heard the plaintiffs argue that they were not given opportunity to comment on the closure because the meeting agenda listed the wolf update as “informational.”
FWP attorney Rebecca Jake-Dockter argued that a number of people did comment in December.
She also said that in the June meeting when the commission approved wolf season changes, they had stated that they would re-evaluate the season in December and possibly make changes.
Gilbert decided that didn’t qualify as notification.
At that June meeting, wildlife advocates had pressed the state to give special protections to Yellowstone’s wolves, which draw throngs of tourists from all over the world. They requested a no-kill buffer zone around the park.
A few weeks ago, state lawmakers added language to a bill to prohibit commissioners from creating such buffers around either Yellowstone or Glacier national parks.
Commissioners would be able to close down hunting and trapping in such areas only if a wolf harvest quota was established and met.
Aasheim said FWP supported that because it still allowed the commission to have authority in the hunt.
“We need to have this ability, but we need to make sure we’re on solid ground in our procedures,” Aasheim said.
Hunters and trappers have killed 174 wolves in Montana this season, exceeding the number killed last year.
Laura Lundquist can be reached at 582-2638 or firstname.lastname@example.org.