BILLINGS – Wolf hunting and trapping can resume near Yellowstone National Park after a Montana judge on Wednesday blocked the state from shutting down the practice.
The restraining order from Judge Nels Swandal allows hunting and trapping to resume in areas east and west of the town of Gardiner. State officials closed the gray wolf season in those areas on Dec. 10 after several wolves collared for research were killed, drawing complaints from wildlife advocates.
The closures 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.
Swandal said in his order that a lack of public notice prior to the December closure appeared to violate state law and the Montana Constitution. Swandal said that threatened to harm guides who depend on hunts and could significantly increase the risk of livestock predation by wolves.
Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks spokesman Ron Aasheim said state wildlife commissioners followed proper public notice requirements before closing the areas.
“Our attorney believed we had acted within our authority,” he said.
Swandal scheduled a Jan. 14 hearing in the case.
Montana had an estimated 650 wolves at the end of 2011. Hunters have reported killing 103 of the animals this season through Wednesday, and trappers have killed at least 32.
The closures north of the park were approved on a 4-to-1 vote. Commissioner Dan Vermillion of Livingston cast the lone dissenting vote, saying there was no evidence the harvest was damaging the species long-term viability.
Park officials had said at least seven Yellowstone wolves – including five wearing tracking collars – were shot in recent months by hunters in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming.
Also shot were four collared wolves originally from the park but now living outside it. Three more shot in the vicinity of the park had unknown origins and were not wearing collars, park officials.