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  • Writer's pictureBecky Faulks

BREAKING NEWS State of Montana Sued as Wolves are Denied Life-Saving Endangered Species Act Protection

Project Coyote and WildEarth Guardians continue litigation against Montana over their extreme wolf hunting and trapping legislation



In a devastating piece of news for wolves across the Northern Rockies, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has voted not to relist wolves under the Endangered Species Act. The state, which is well-known for its aggressive tactics against carnivores, is compensating trappers and hunters for killing wolves, aiming to eradicate 90% of them from the state. It has also removed the wolf-protection buffer around Yellowstone National Park, which contains no visible boundaries to warn wolves of danger from hunters.

According to the Relist Wolves Campaign, over 4,000 wolves have been killed in the United States since they were taken off the Endangered Species List in 2021. This led a judge to restore protections in 2022 in other states, but not in the Northern Rockies (Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho), where 80% of the killing takes place. The aggressive policies put forward have resurrected age-old prejudices, which have been condemned by environmentalists as cruel, political, and archaic – more suited to the 1800s than today’s modern world.

In answer, wildlife advocates WildEarth Guardians and Project Coyote sued the state of Montana in November 2022 for violation of the Montana Constitution, Montana Administrative Procedure Act (MAPA), Public Trust Doctrine and several federal laws protecting wildlife. The lawsuit claims the state is relying on ‘stale and insufficient scientific data in order to authorise the killing of roughly 40% of the state’s wolf population during the winter hunting season'. Despite repeated attempts to throw out the case, the lawsuit is ongoing. Last month, further evidence was submitted of the plan’s failure to take the benefits wolves provide for the ecosystem and economy into account, as well as the harms that will result from the state’s continued aggressive killing policies.

A rewilding triumph that began in 1995, when the first wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone National Park since 1920, is now under threat. Since their release, wolves have played a vital role in stabilising the ecosystem, creating resilient elk herds, increasing beaver numbers and bringing back aspen and vegetation. Now, all their good work is in danger of being undone.

Project Coyote Carnivore Conservation Director Renee Seacor said:

‘Any semblance of protection or compassion halted abruptly in 2021 when Montana politicians sanctioned the killing of up to 85% of its state wolf population (...) That season, our nation’s most treasured and iconic wolves were slaughtered one after another until 25 were dead, the deadliest season for Yellowstone National Park wolves in 100 years. That season across the state, 273 wolves would tragically lose their lives.’

Seacor also described a research project she undertook, digitising Montana Agricultural Commission records from 1892-1931. These documents recorded bounty certificates for carnivores killed across the state. She recalls:

‘With every flip of a page, I recorded wolves by the tens, hundreds, and thousands that were ripped off the landscape and cashed in for anywhere from $3-$15. Slowly as I progressed through the records, wolf kills started to shrink, and bounty hunters seemed to be bringing in less carnage until the number of certificates issued for wolves stopped appearing altogether. I remember the first few pages where wolf numbers disappeared, realising I was staring at the ink marks representing the moment in time when hunters delivered the bodies of the last wolves to exist in the state.’ 

Dan Ashe, director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) under Obama, offered a different take on the matter but expressed similar sentiments. He claimed that the new legislation ‘isn’t about elk, deer, livestock or science’, but ‘old-fashioned persecution, hatred and cruelty’.

Elk numbers across the West are way above management objectives,’ he told reporters in 2022. ‘I used to be proud of being a hunter. Not so proud now. Hunting has become radicalized and imbedded with the gun culture and wolf persecution. Hunters can’t have it both ways; they can’t brag about performing the ecological function of natural predators and simultaneously demand that those predators be eliminated. Livestock depredation is another make-believe issue. In 2015, 1,904 wolves shared the Rocky Mountain West with 1.6 million cattle. Wolves killed 148 cows, or 0.01 percent, and the states compensated ranchers.’

In better news, wolves are thriving in California, and their recent release in Colorado has made the headlines. There is still hope for their survival in Montana, and until legislation is put in place for their protection, wildlife advocates will continue to fight.


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