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model’s design and inputs lead ….

model’s design and inputs lead to an overestimation of the state’s wolf population and said the agency should be using other methods to replace or supplement iPOM data such as pack counts conducted in the field and genetic sampling.

At one point during the nearly seven-hour-long hearing, state attorney Sarah Clerget asked Michelle Lute, a witness for the plaintiffs, if other states use the iPOM model to estimate their wolf populations. Lute responded that it’s recently been greenlit for use in Wisconsin and later noted that Wisconsin is in the process of rewriting its wolf management plan after Project Coyote and others brought similar administrative procedure claims before Wisconsin courts.

Abbott wrote that he didn’t find the criticism of the iPOM model persuasive enough to side with plaintiffs at this stage in the case. He wrote that “the Court is not persuaded that iPOM is so unreliable or so substantially tending to overestimate wolf populations that the Department and Commission’s reliance on it while this litigation pends is likely to trigger irreparable harm to wolf sustainability.”

Abbott also wrote that none of the witnesses testifying “presented any evidence that wolf populations are such that this hunting and trapping season — if permitted to continue as established by the Commission — will cause a decline of wolves to anything near the sustainability level.” In an emailed release about the decision, WildEarth Guardians carnivore coexistence advocate Lizzy Pennock said plaintiffs will “keep fighting for Montana’s wolves in the courtroom while our case carries on and outside the courtroom in every way possible.”

The lawsuit comes as the Biden administration weighs reinstating federal protections for gray wolves. In September of 2021, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service examined petitions to restore Endangered Species Act protections to gray wolves of the West and determined that there was enough evidence to merit closer study of gray wolves’ viability, due in part to wolf management frameworks in Idaho and Montana. That assessment was supposed to be completed within a year but is still ongoing.

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