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Montanans Celebrate Halting of Wolverine Trapping

Court grants temporary restraining order less than 24 hours before the recreational trapping season opens.

Additional Contact:

Matthew Bishop, Attorney, WELC, 406-324-8011 (office) or 406-422-9866 (cell)

Helena, MT – Less than 24 hours before the start of the wolverine trapping season, a Montana District Court in Helena put a halt to the recreational trapping while the underlying case to determine the lawfulness of wolverine trapping in Montana makes its way through court. This is an important step toward protecting wolverine from extinction in the Lower 48. The exceptionally low wolverine population suffers greatly when even one of the rare animals is trapped.

In the decision to grant the temporary restraining order halting the trapping, the Court opined, “Balancing the loss of a ‘recreational harvest opportunity’ against the possible damage to a potentially endangered species, the Court finds equity lies in favor of issuing a temporary restraining order.”

“We’re thrilled the Court suspended the wolverine trapping season,” said Matthew Bishop, the WELC attorney representing the plaintiffs. “The state shouldn’t be kicking wolverines while they’re down.”

On October 11, the Western Environmental Law Center, on behalf of eight community groups - including Helena Hunters and Anglers Association - and one local resident, filed a lawsuit to halt wolverine trapping in Montana until the species’ population has recovered.

On December 14, 2010, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service determined that the wolverine deserves federal protection under the Endangered Species Act (“ESA”). However, the agency also said it could not undertake the necessary rulemaking process for lack of time, so the wolverine remains a “candidate” species awaiting protective status. 

Montana is the only state in the Lower 48 that still allows the rare wolverine to be trapped. Montana’s wolverine population is estimated at 100-175 animals, with no more than 35 individuals capable of producing offspring. The current quota in Montana allows five wolverines to be trapped and killed each season. Wolverines are trapped for their fur.

"Wolverines are facing enormous threats from climate change and habitat loss, trapping should not be one of them," said Arlene Montgomery, Program Director for Friends of the Wild Swan. "We are pleased that the judge granted the restraining order so that he can fully evaluate this important issue.

Since being designated a “candidate” species for ESA protection, local residents have submitted extensive comments to the Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks Commission asking the agency to end the trapping of wolverines. The Commissioners did not respond or otherwise address these comments. The State also refused to address the merits of a formal petition submitted by Mr. Bishop on behalf of the same eight conservation groups and one individual asking the State to adopt a new rule ending the trapping of wolverines until they are no longer a candidate or listed species under the ESA. 

Trapping is the major source of wolverine mortality in Montana and has had significant negative effects on subpopulations inhabiting Montana’s small, isolated island ranges. In one study spanning a three year period, of the 14 wolverines researchers followed in the Pioneer Mountains, six were killed in traps, including four adult males and two pregnant females, killing half of the estimated wolverine population there.  

The Western Environmental Law Center is representing Helena Hunters and Anglers Association, Friends of the Wild Swan, Montana Ecosystem Defense Council, Native Ecosystems Council, the Alliance for the Wild Rockies, the Swan View Coalition, WildEarth Guardians, Footloose Montana and Mr. George Wuerthner.

Read the judge’s order here:



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