BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — A Montana judge issued an injunction Friday allowing wolf trapping and hunting to continue outside Yellowstone National Park, as lawmakers in Helena advanced a measure to loosen restrictions on killing wolves statewide.
Combined, the two actions pave the way for a further ratcheting up of Montana's efforts to curb gray wolf numbers less than two years after they came off the endangered species list.
Friday's decision from state District Judge Brenda Gilbert came after state wildlife commissioners attempted to close two areas totaling 60 square miles to hunting and trapping out of concerns too many Yellowstone wolves were being killed.
Gilbert agreed with sporting groups that sued the state over the matter, resulting in a temporary restraining order earlier this month. Plaintiffs in the case said not enough public notice was given prior to the December approval of the closure by the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Commission.
Gilbert said that lack of notice denied hunting proponents a fair chance to weigh in on the closures. She said if the closures had stood, members of the public would have been unfairly denied the ability to hunt and trap wolves and it would have increased the risks of livestock attacks by the animals.
Critics contend the state is being too aggressive against the predators. After rebounding from widespread extermination last century, wolves lost their endangered species protections under orders from Congress in 2011.
Wildlife advocates warn that Montana risks driving away the thousands of tourists who come to Yellowstone annually in hopes of glimpsing a wolf in the wild. Park officials also have sought limits on how the number of wolves killed just across Yellowstone's boundary.
Hunting outfitters and other supporters of Montana's wolf season say driving down wolf numbers is key to reducing the predators' attacks on livestock and big game herds.
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