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Montana Judge Orders Wolf Killing to Resume Near Yellowstone

Judge sides with handful of trophy hunting groups despite a heavy hunting season and repeated killing of research animals

- Lauren McCauley, staff writer

Wolf hunting and trapping will resume near Yellowstone National Park after a Montana judge blocked the state from shutting down the practice after a brutal hunting season that saw the death of several wolves collared for research.

Wildlife advocates are decrying Wednesday's move by Judge Swandal, calling uproar by anti-wolf groups "vindictive." (Photo: Fremlin via Flickr) State officials closed the gray wolf season on Dec. 10 after wildlife advocates raised alarm in response to the killing of at least eight wolves being tracked for scientific research, including the well known alpha wolf 832F (known as '06 by her admirers).

Wednesday's restraining order from (the soon to be retired) Judge Nels Swandal allows hunting and trapping to resume immediately in areas on either side of Gardiner, Mt., which sits right on the boundary of the national park. According to Wildlife News, the majority of the park’s rapidly shrinking wolf population lives in the northern section, only a few miles from the boundary.

The Associated Press reports:

The move [to end the season] prompted a lawsuit from sporting groups and a state lawmaker from Park County Rep. Alan Redfield, who said the public was not given enough chance to weigh in on the closures.

In his order, Swandal sided with the plaintiffs. He said the lack of public notice appeared to violate the Montana Constitution and threatened to deprive the public of the legal right to harvest wolves.

He ordered the state "to immediately reinstitute and allow hunting and trapping of wolves in all areas of Park County."

Other plaintiffs in the suit include Citizens for Balanced Use, Big Game Forever, Montana Outfitters and Guides Association and Montana Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife. A Jan. 14 hearing is scheduled.

In their response to the news, Marc Cooke with the group Wolves of the Rockies wrote: 

It is an unfortunate turn of events that a small group of anti-wolves trophy hunting organizations and Montana outfitters and guide association have challenged Montana Fish Wildlife & Parks commissioners decision and a judge has implemented a temporary injunction.

Cooke said the lawsuit over the paltry closure area revealed the "irrational hatred" of some hunting and trapping supporters.

"You have 145,000 square miles in Montana, and they're fighting over a measly 60 square miles of land that is critical habitat for these animals. To me, it's very vindictive," he said.

Montana had an estimated 650 wolves at the end of 2011. After the current season, which marks the first in Montana since a Congressional order to remove the animals' endangered species protections, hunters have reportedly killed 103 wolves with trappers falling at least 30 more.

Wolf populations are under threat in Wyoming, as well. Wildlife biologists estimate that the number of wolves in the state has fallen 40 percent this year.

"What we're doing right now, I think, is putting us on a very bad trajectory," said Franz Camenzind, biologist and former director of the Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance. "When you take that many out of a small population, primarily because they're such a social animal, I think the impacts are even greater."