HELENA, Mont. (AP) - Montana officials have agreed not to issue any elk-kill permits this season after a legal challenge to their plan to reduce the spread of disease to cattle.
The Park County brucellosis plan approved by the Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission last month aims to separate elk and cattle to prevent the spread of the disease, which can cause cattle to abort their calves.
The plan allows the state to issue elk kill permits to landowners or to pay for elk-proof fencing in the spring, when the chance of disease transmission is the greatest.
But after a conference call with the attorneys for two sportsmen’s groups that filed a lawsuit Wednesday challenging the plan, Fish, Wildlife and Parks director Jeff Hagener wrote a letter saying the agency won’t issue any kill permits through May 15.
The plan does not allow permits to be issued after that date. No landowners had applied for a permit as of Thursday, FWP officials said.
The concession was made “in the interest of working with your clients to seek an agreeable resolution to the lawsuit,” Hagener said in the letter to plaintiffs’ attorney J. Devlan Geddes.
Geddes, who represents the Skyline Sportsmen’s Association and Anaconda Sportsmen’s Club, said Hagener’s pledge is a start to further discussions, but it does not mean the groups plan to drop their lawsuit.
“We are hoping to try to coordinate with FWP to discuss the concerns our clients have in the complaint,” Geddes said.
The lawsuit asks a Helena judge to block the implementation and enforcement of the entire brucellosis plan. It alleges the FWP and the Fish and Wildlife Commission overstepped their authority by adopting it, and that wildlife officials did not undergo the detailed environmental review required under state law.
The state has not filed a response to the lawsuit.