Despite a recent interpretation of Montana state law that aerial hunting of wolves is not prohibited, it is against federal law.
Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks recently argued in state district court that state law does not prohibit aerial hunting of wolves. FWP’s arguments came as legal justification for the agency to remove language from the state’s wolf regulations that stated hunting wolves from aircraft was prohibited. The agency says the inclusion of this language in the regulations for a decade was a mistake.
In response to media reports of the case, a number of readers pointed to the federal fighter law. The Airborne Hunting Act of 1972 “prohibits shooting or attempting to shoot or harass any bird, fish or other animal from an aircraft except for certain specified reasons, including the protection of wildlife, livestock and of human life, as authorized by any federal or state-issued license or permit.”
“It is accurate to say that under federal airborne hunting law, hunting wolves or other animals from the air is prohibited in most cases,” said Jessica Sutt, spokeswoman for the US Fish and Wildlife Service, in an email. “The law permits authorized federal or state officers to fire from an aircraft for defined management purposes. … The average person with a hunting license cannot shoot from an aircraft under AHA.
In response to a question about the federal law, FWP spokesperson Greg Lemon wrote in an email: “The federal law that prohibits aerial hunting provides an exception for state-authorized activities. We believe that FWP (is) exempt from this law.
In an effort to clarify the state’s position, the Montana State News Bureau asked the agency whether “licensed activities” meant that licensed hunters could operate aircraft. FWP spent more than a week doing some legal analysis on the matter, Lemon said, and responded Wednesday, “Aerial recreational hunting of wolves is currently prohibited by federal law.”
Aside from state or federal officers firing from the air, federal law has exceptions that have led states to allow the public to shoot from the air in certain circumstances. The language of Montana and other state programs describes the activities as livestock management or wildlife depredation.
The Montana Department of Livestock offers aerial hunting permits specifically for coyotes and foxes. Licensed pilots can purchase a permit through an application that includes an application from a cattle rancher. The application clarifies that the permit does not permit the shooting of coyotes or foxes for recreational purposes.
Alaska has developed “intensive management” programs for certain areas where it has determined that moose or caribou populations are below desired levels. The public can apply for permits authorizing a pilot and gunner to shoot wolves, or bears in some cases, from the air in an effort to increase ungulate numbers. In several places, however, Alaska declares that aerial hunting is prohibited outside intensive management areas and without permits.
“These permits allow aerial fire by a rear gunner,” says a management plan, as well as spotting wolves from the air, landing and immediate hunting.
Idaho uses language indicating that recent efforts to expand wolf capture methods do not include aerial hunting, citing federal law.
“These extended methods do not currently include aerial wolf shooting, which is subject to the Federal Airborne Hunting Act and not permitted in Idaho,” according to Idaho Fish and Game. “If Idaho were to allow aerial hunting of wolves, it would be specific to designated and permit control actions of the Idaho Department of Agriculture, which is authorized by the Federal Airborne Hunting Act.”
The issue with Montana’s wolf hunting laws and regulations came as the FWP and the Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission face legal action from two wildlife advocacy groups. The groups say they were denied the right to participate when the FWP removed language that had previously appeared in wolf hunting and trapping regulations stating that aerial hunting was prohibited by a rule set by the commission. The groups argue in part that the regulatory changes should have gone through the open commission process rather than being made unilaterally by FWP.
According to the testimony of a former FWP attorney, a review of the agency found that the commission had not adopted such a rule and likely lacked the authority to do so. The review concluded that the state legislature, rather than the commission, should make a change to ban aerial hunting of wolves under state law, according to testimony.
The Montana Legislature has enacted state bans on aerial hunting of “big game” animals, such as elk and cougars, as well as “fur animals” such as bobcats and beavers. But wolves are legally defined by the state as a “species in need of management,” and the legislature has not enacted a similar ban on wolves, state wildlife officials said in testimony and testimony. court documents.
Current wolf regulations do not mention the federal ban on aerial hunting. FWP does not have the authority to enforce federal law, but in some cases has passed rules and regulations through the commission shaped by federal law, such as regulations for hunting migratory birds, or a game warden with the authority to write a ticket for driving off-road on federal roads. Earth.