No relief from Montana’s imposition on Park wildlife-

Year after year the state of Montana has pummelled Yellowstone Park’s wildlife right at its northern boundary. They have slaughtered thousands of bison that stepped outside the Park and now decimated Yellowstone’s already naturally declining wolf population.

Today a Montana state district judge strengthened the earlier ruling (injunction) by a now retired judge that struck down Montana Fish Wildlife and Park Commission’s (FWP) emergency wolf hunting closure around Gardiner, Montana. The town sits right on the north boundary of America’s (and the world’s) first national park.  The wolf hunting closure area is in a natural wildlife migration corridor because the topography a couple miles to the east or west is too rugged and steep. New District Judge Brenda Gilbert issued her ruling and injunction today (Friday) after a Jan. 14 hearing in Livingston, MT.

The emergency closure came after 7 Park wolves were killed as they were wandering just outside the Park, disrupting and basically ending the Park’s wolf winter research program because five of the wolves had radio collars. Three of them were advanced GPS collars that record all the movements of the wolves.

Judge Gilbert’s basic argument was that FWP did not give enough notice to wolf hunting and trapping  hunting proponents to comment on the emergency closure.  She said if the emergency closures had stood, Montanans would have been improperly denied the ability to hunt and trap wolves and it would have increased the risks of livestock attacks by the animals.

Her later argument is hard to fathom because there are few to no wintering livestock in the emergency closure area. Not killing wolves in mid-Winter cannot increase the risk of attacks on livestock because the wolf population never increases in mid-winter. Wolves have pups in April or early May.

Speaking for FWP, Ron Aasheim said the commissioners will take up the Yellowstone-area closure proposal again on Jan. 29. This time there will ample public notice and hearing. Meanwhile the Montana Legislature is trying to permanently legislate that there be no buffer zones around Yellowstone Park.

Montana FWP set a no quota wolf hunt because they thought there were too many wolves and that the state population had grown in 2011 despite a wolf hunt. Actually the wolf hunt was still going when the “official” 2011 wolf count was released.

The scientific journal, Nature and Science published biologist Jay S. Mallonee’s paper published on the Montana wolf population. He presented data arguing that the wolf population’s size was overestimated. Here is a link to the paper. “Hunting Wolves In Montana – Where Are The Data? Nature and Science 2011; 9(9). pp. 175-82.

Here is a link to Judge Gilbert’s decision. Citizens for Balanced Use, et al. v. Montana Fish Wildlife, and Parks COmmission

About The Author

Ralph Maughan

Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University. He was a Western Watersheds Project Board Member off and on for many years, and was also its President for several years. For a long time he produced Ralph Maughan's Wolf Report. He was a founder of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. He and Jackie Johnson Maughan wrote three editions of "Hiking Idaho." He also wrote "Beyond the Tetons" and "Backpacking Wyoming's Teton and Washakie Wilderness." He created and is the administrator of The Wildlife News.

47 Responses to Local Montana Judge: wolf hunting and trapping will remain open next to Yellowstone Park

  1. ramses09 says:

    Ignorance, that’s all I can say.

  2. JB says:

    “Meanwhile the Montana Legislature is trying to permanently legislate that there be no buffer zones around Yellowstone Park.”

    This is a far more troubling development.

  3. WM says:

    Two take-aways from this decision:

    1. Based on the decision, MTFWP is reckless when making its rules (no public notice in this instance). That part is preventable with better legal counsel and sharper staff.

    2. Local judges (2 of them) one leaving office and one a brand new one (this was likely one of her very first decisions) are grounded in local politics.
    There was a simple legal way around this complaint and the judges chose not to take it.

    I am still amazed that a judge could conclude an injunction which eliminates a resource is preferrable to conserving a resource until a state agency can cure a procedural rule making flaw. Absolutely fkn amazing!

    • Louise Kane says:

      The incoming judge also used to work in the exiting judge’s law firm. Not a mandatory reason for recusing oneself but ethically should have been a reason.

  4. Marc Cooke says:

    Very disappointed but expected. The deck is stacked against us in Helena. Citizens For Balanced Use is driven by a man named Kerry White….. Representative Kerry White has a seat on the House Fish & Wildlife Committee.

    Now HB 73 is moving to he Senate. This bills birth was from an agency request sponsored by Rep Flynn. (MtFWP) Now this bill has become a hybrid bill. Rep. Washburns language from his two tabled bills has been woven into this bill HB 73.

    Wolves of the Rockies and other honorable groups continue to reach out, fight and comment to derail these bills but its an up hill fight!

  5. Gail says:

    That’s right, Judge. Cater to the special interests like so many of your fearful cohorts. Hopefully the ranchers and trappers can compensate in some way for the lack of wildlife “watchers” that hopefully won’t be visiting Montana or Yellowstone this season…or leaving their money there. What a short-sighted decision. Oh, and let’s talk about “fair” and “where are the data?”
    Yuppers, let’s just let those ignorant fools keep killing COLLARED wolves WITH IMPUNITY!! Apparently they are setting things up so there will NEVER be any data!

  6. Ida Lupine says:

    Any grounds for appeal?

  7. Robert R says:

    This becoming the same as ranching for wildlife but with a different twist.

    If a buffer zone was implemented it would never be large enough to be satisfie and eventually the bison and wolves will go out of that buffer zone.

    • Ida Lupine says:

      But at least it keeps a section of the park free of hunting and trapping. It sends a very bad message that hunters and trappers don’t leave the park alone, and are preying on the collared wolves – that they don’t respect the Park, the scientific work going on, and that their proposed ‘management’ is was just a ploy to get them off the endangered list so that they could exterminate them. After this zone is in place – it would never be enlarged, are you kidding? It would be difficult enough getting an original buffer zone, never mind more. I think most would be happy to have the buffer zone.

    • JB says:


      Your critique has been raised in the past. For the purposes of research, I suspect it would be relatively simple to calculate the probability of a “park” wolf occurring at different distances away from the park. This data could then be used to inform buffer discussions. For example, GPS data could be used to determine the size (X kilometers) of a buffer that would contain 99% of collared wolf locations.

      • Robert R says:


        If the buffer zone was 99% would hunting and trapping still be excepted as a management tool.
        If a collard wolf goes out of the buffer zone and gets killed it will be the same all over again

        • JB says:


          I’m simply commenting on what is possible. Some people will always object to hunting and trapping of wolves–especially those that reside in the park. In creating a buffer, what makes sense is not to try and eliminate the “take” of park wolves entirely, but rather, to reduce the probability of their being killed such that research is not negatively impacted.

    • Mikepost says:

      If you do not have a buffer zone on the outside of the park, then you effectively ad hoc creat one inside the park where within a certain distance of the park borders. Those critters that cant read the signs will keep flowing back and forth and the end result is diminished populations within a few clicks of the border. The YNP DMZ…

      • Leslie says:

        Relative to a buffer zone…I think there are options that can be looked at; for instance, look at the genetic corridors and keep those areas off-limits OR very reduced hunt quotas and no trapping. Somehow, this just doesn’t seem so hard. There are plenty of places in MT. and WY to hunt wolves that aren’t directly impacting the Park wolves. The Park wolves will move with the elk, for sure, but part of the biological information that these state game agencies rely on comes from the Park studies–and that includes prey (elk) in relation to predators as well. Seems like it would be in everyone’s interest (state and Park), except maybe those who ‘cry wolf”s interest.

  8. Marc Cooke says:

    Like it or not…..we are on the road to relisting! IMHO

    • savebears says:

      Even with the hunting seasons, there has been no indications that any of the states are even close to the listing threshold.

    • Ida Lupine says:

      And if so, political posturing will have resulted in 1000 wolves killed for absolutely nothing. Very sad.

  9. Leslie says:

    Doesn’t the FWP have the power, for next year’s hunt, to put a 0 or a low quota in those areas and not have a trap season there? Maybe its too late for this season but how about next? In WY, those quotas are set by G&F.

    It appears that because of what happened in my area with the 3 Park wolves killed, the quotas may be much lower in this area next year.

    • savebears says:


      Yes FWP has the power to set quotas and such, they are the ones that set the seasons. As I said in another message, the scuttlebutt in Helena is that there is going to be a pretty big change in the commission due this situation with the lawsuit.

  10. Leslie says:

    SB, You say no indications states are even close to quota…that may be true with MT and ID because their quotas are 100 wolves, but in WY they will be darn close I think with the predator zone. They seemed to have underestimated how many wolves were in the predator zone because they are going strong still and beyond their calculations.

    • savebears says:

      No Leslie,

      I said, there have been no indications that they are approaching the threshold to re-list wolves and there will be no indication until counts are done.

  11. Jon Way says:

    Save Bears,
    I agree with you that there is no indication of re-listing with the ridiculous (in my opinion) low thresholds per state (150). However, it is hard for any neutral person to expect these state agencies to produce objective population counts given the political bantering back and forth. That is why it is all the more amazing that there isn’t a wider buffer (say at least 250) that each state espouses to.

    • savebears says:


      I have not stated a position either way, I would like to see how the official counts go, before making such a decision. At least in my state, I do have faith that the people in charge will try and be objective this next go around.

      Time will tell.

      Now remember when this started out, it was 10/100, now it is 15/150 so it will be interesting to see what the future brings.

      • Leslie says:

        SB, so ID and MT are 15/150? WY is 100/10 but of course less wolves altogether. I know the feds are watching the count. They were collaring here last weekend and 3 biologists were doing the work. Maybe I’m too trusting but I do think they will be watched relative to their counts. WY is accountable for 5 years.

        • savebears says:


          I am sure the counts are being watched, MT and ID are being watched as well. Were the Fed’s collaring or was the state doing the collaring operation?

          Yes, both ID and MT agreed to raise the bar and agreed to 15/150 in order to get them delisted, which of course didn’t happen until the congressional rider.

          • Leslie says:

            These were biologists with the state. At least one had been with the feds and stayed on with the state. Wolf biologists too. Good fellows.

            • savebears says:

              Well if they are like Montana, the collaring operations are just part of the daily business of the Game Dept.

  12. Can’t they at least.ban killing a collared.animal? otherwise.

    • savebears says:

      They don’t ban the killing of any other collared animal, why should they just for wolves?

      • savebears says:

        Also, if you ban the killing of collared wolves, then you skew the information received for the studies, human take of wolves has to be part of the whole picture, even the well respected JB has made this statement.

  13. Leslie says:

    SB, I understand our GW got the first collared wolf in this area. What do you think of that considering you worked for FWP? Would that have any consequences usually?

    • savebears says:

      What is GW? do you mean Game Warden? I have no problem with a Game Warden legally taking a wolf, as long as he is licensed and is following the fair chase ethic, are you trying to imply he didn’t?

      • Leslie says:

        Game warden yes. All I know is he shot the first wolf here and it was a collared one. I’m sure he had a tag but just wondering, aren’t they also privy to the GPS coordinates and although I don’t know if he used them, wouldn’t that be a conflict of interest?

        • savebears says:

          If he used tracking collar information, it would not be a conflict of interest, it would be down right illegal. I know there has been a lot of speculation about the collared wolves, but there has been no indication what’s so ever that people are using the tracking information to target wolves.

          Until such time that there is, people need to get off that line of thought.

          As Richie and I discussed the other day, just having the GPS numbers does not mean you know where the wolf is, it means you can follow a path, but the animal normally moves and will not be at the coordinates that you receive. When we did the bear collaring, the ping was set up to only ping every few hours.

          I think it is plausible that he knew where the wolf was, because he spends so much more time in the field than the normal hunters does.

          • Louise Kane says:

            with thousands of hunters that have legal permits, and virtually no protection for them, most wolves will be killed. This is what the states are aiming to do right down to the measly 100 or 150 that is defined in the BS recovery plan. It matters not whether Americans want the park wolves protected by a buffer, collars or any other means. The public’s opinion is not being considered in wolf management. I’m disgusted and fed up as are many. all the benevolent language in the world won’t change the fact that the states should not be managing wolves or coyotes either for that matter. There is just too much politics, ignorance, hate and stupidity driving predator management.

        • Louise Kane says:

          Hmm Leslie, the game warden shoots collared wolf. Wow nothing out of place here. No problem, all legal. Thats the problem just about anything is legal.

    • Louise Kane says:

      If this is true Leslie, can you provide any specifics? I have to admit to being increasingly disturbed by the information that is released daily…..Is this really true? i want to know.

  14. Forgive my ignorance on the subject,.but after we,.as for.the research that goes into any collared.animal,.I.think it is not only a waste to destroy a collared animal,.but doesn’t make any sense to inhibit the studies that goes along with it.
    Having said that I am against killing any animal near Yellowstone or otherwise. There scientific.evidence the killing of.predator animals. They are an important role in the health and well-being of not.only their own species but any and all species involved in the cycle of nature and.its territory.
    To other than self-sustainance is unnecessary, unethical and.immoral.
    Education is key for wolves and other predators if they are to remain in.existence.
    Predator Defense has published a documentary called The Imperiled American Wolf and is to me, an.asset in the efforts to save these precious species our country has chosen to.heartlessly eradicate for its own monetary gain.

    • savebears says:


      I understand your position, but if we are to have meaningful studies, the human part of the equation must be included in the overall picture as hunting is part of the dangers these animals face.

      If we take the humans out of it, then the information is not complete and will not yield the correct information.

      Outside the park, is administered by the states and this has been upheld in the Supreme Court.

    • john says:

      i was under the impression that Wolf project was a privately funded operation, relying on donations and such, the people I know that have worked for the project never said they worked for the govt.

  15. Leslie says:

    As of today in 2013, 5 wolves killed in the predator zone. That makes 73 total since the beginning of the hunt in WY. Interesting with a starting count of around 230 where it will stand.

  16. Fredrich says:

    Well i am on both sides of this subject. But i think that we should at least try the buffer zones, that way we can give science a little more about these animals. Those radio collars are costing us a crap ton of money. And with these wolves that we are studying dying, how else are supposed to figure out their ways? Thats my story and im stickin to it.

  17. Sheldon says:

    i think that if the wolves are going to get out they’re gonna go where they want anyway. so if they decide to do a buffer zone they are going to have to make it pretty wide. how big should it be? what is big enough? people are gonna have a problem with it no matter where ya shoot it anyway.

    • Ralph Maughan says:


      I don’t think the answer here is very hard to see.

      I figure Fish, Wildlife and Parks wanted a buffer zone that was big enough to stop the killing of what are pretty much Yellowstone Park wolves, but not so big that it would have any discernible effect on the Montan wolf hunt.

      If I am right, it isn’t hard to figure out how big the buffer zone should be, and it was pretty much what they tried to do. It is the “Gardiner Basin” — the valley bottom from Gardiner north to Yankee Jim Canyon, and the foothills of the Absaroka just outside the Park at Decker Flats, up Jardine and Bear Creek and the south slopes of Sheep Mountain.

      If wolves from Yellowstone are up in Paradise Valley, then they really aren’t Park wolves anymore, but if a wolf steps across the invisible straight line that is the Park boundary at Decker Flats and gets popped, just like that, then it really is pretty much killing a Yellowstone Park wolf.


January 2013


‎"At some point we must draw a line across the ground of our home and our being, drive a spear into the land and say to the bulldozers, earthmovers, government and corporations, “thus far and no further.” If we do not, we shall later feel, instead of pride, the regret of Thoreau, that good but overly-bookish man, who wrote, near the end of his life, “If I repent of anything it is likely to be my good behaviour."

~ Edward Abbey