Wildlife: Idaho ends wilderness wolf hunt — for now

There will no wolf hunting in Idaho and Montana this year. Photo by Tracy Brooks/Mission Wolf / USFWS

Idaho halts wilderness wolf hunt. Photo by Tracy Brooks/Mission Wolf/USFWS.

Wildlife advocates claim hunt was intended to boost elk numbers to benefit hunters and outfitters

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Wildlife conservation advocates made some headway in their battle to halt relentless wolf hunting in the northern Rockies this week, as the Idaho Department of Fish and Game agreed to stop its trapping and hunting program in the Middle Fork region of the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness.

Since mid-December, Idaho killed nine wolves from two packs in the region. Represented by Earthjustice, several conservation groups went to court to block the killing, arguing that the state wolf extermination program would degrade the largest forested wilderness in the lower-48 states.

“IDFG’s hunter-trapper killed nine wolves and we are happy to report that the rest no longer face the same threat,” said Earthjustice attorney Tim Preso.  “We are sorry it took an emergency injunction request to the court of appeals to get Idaho to halt this illegal program, and we hope that the federal government in the future will take more seriously its public trust responsibility to protect the wilderness from state efforts to exterminate native wildlife.”

A federal judge in Idaho rejected a request to stop the program on January 17, but conservationists took their fight to the court of appeals, where they filed an emergency request for an injunction on January 23.

“This is bittersweet news,” said Ken Cole with the Western Watersheds Project. “I am happy that IDFG has relented but it is unfortunate that so many wolves have been taken in this senseless plan to manhandle wildlife in an area that Congress recognized as a wilderness ‘where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man’”

In mid-December 2013, IDFG hired a hunter-trapper to pack into central Idaho’s 2.4-million-acre Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness to eradicate two wolf packs, the Golden and Monumental packs, in the interest of inflating elk populations for outfitters and recreational hunters. The U.S. Forest Service, which administers the wilderness, approved the extermination program by authorizing use of a Forest Service cabin and airstrip to support wolf extermination activities.

“It’s a tragedy that nine wolves had to die before the state of Idaho finally pulled the plug on its needless effort to eradicate two whole wolf packs from one of America’s largest wilderness areas,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director with the Center for Biological Diversity. “The wolves were only playing the role they play in nature and should never have been killed. It should not take court action to stop such cruel, unnecessary and wasteful killing, but I’m glad it has stopped.”

The region of the Frank Church Wilderness where IDFG’s hunter-trapper was killing wolves is a remote area around Big Creek and the Middle Fork of the Salmon River. Even though this region hosts one of the lightest densities of hunters in the state, IDFG prioritized elk production over protection of the area’s wilderness character. The Forest Service failed to object to IDFG’s plans and instead actively assisted them.

Earthjustice represented long-time Idaho conservationist and wilderness advocate Ralph Maughan along with four conservation groups—Defenders of Wildlife, Western Watersheds Project, Wilderness Watch, and the Center for Biological Diversity—in the lawsuit challenging the wolf extermination program.

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