A federal judge has cut wolf trapping season in half in most of Montana. The decision comes after multiple animal advocacy groups filed a lawsuit claiming that federally-protected grizzly bears are being unintentionally snared in the western part of the Big Sky State. 

According to Montana Public Radio four cases of grizzlies with missing toes and legs were documented by state biologists in 2021. By shrinking the wolf trapping season from nearly four months to less than two months, the ruling aims to mitigate unintentional harm to grizzly bears, the outlet reports.

The intent is to have traps active only when bears are hibernating, wrote U.S. District Court Judge Donald Molloy in the final ruling. Molloy also pointed to shifting weather patterns as a reason for the court-ordered regulation change, writing that grizzlies are becoming more active outside of their dens during the shoulder seasons due to climate change.

“The state of Montana has appealed the ruling,” stated Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks in a November 22 news release. “FWP staff will continue to track the denning status of grizzly bears in case an appeal is successful and the injunction is overturned.”  

The ruling does not apply to trapping units in eastern Montana where the season opened November 27 east of Billings and runs through March 15. West of Billings, including land bordering Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks, the season will start January 1 and end February 15.

“The judge’s sweeping order tramples the rights of trappers while a few environmental extremists abuse the ESA and ride the gravy train of judicial activism,” reads Montana Governor Greg Gianforte’s statement following the ruling. “Montana has a healthy, sustainable population of wolves and grizzlies, and there has been no incidental take of grizzlies from wolf trapping in Montana since 2013.”

While trappers forums online indicate disappointment in the seasonal decrease, animal right groups are celebrating the change as a win. “This is great news,” reads a December 1 Instagram post from Wyoming Wildlife Advocates, a Jackson Hole-based animal rights group with goals of reforming wildlife management in the Cowboy State. “This case is a great example of the significance and necessity of the Endangered Species Act.”   

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In its press release, Montana FWP said the ruling won’t impact wolf hunting season, which is open now and runs through March 15. “FWP and the Fish and Wildlife commission have worked diligently to assemble and implement sound science-based management for wolves and grizzly bears, including the wolf regulations impacted by this ruling,” the release states. “The recovered status of grizzly bears in the Northern Continental Divide and Yellowstone ecosystems is testimony to this effort. The State of Montana has appealed the ruling.  FWP staff will continue to track the denning status of grizzly bears in case an appeal is successful, and the injunction is overturned.”