Lawsuit looms over new Idaho wolf-hunting law

A new analysis by biologists and wildlife experts refutes much of the justification for extreme wolf hunts in Idaho, Montana and Wisconsin.

BOISE – Environmentalists’ opposition to Idaho’s war on wolves is gaining momentum.

On behalf of 10 other wildlife advocacy groups, the non-profit Earthjustice organization recently filed a legal notice of its intent to sue the state of Idaho over its new wolf-hunting laws.

Those statutes, which went into effect July 1, call for the killing of up to 90 percent of the state’s gray wolf population through year-round hunting, trapping and snaring.

But environmentalists argue that Idaho’s unlimited wolf-hunting methods will result in incidental trapping and snaring of federally protected lynxes and bears, violating the Endangered Species Act.

The Idaho Legislature’s latest assault on wolves introduces a new killing paradigm not seen since the 19th Century,” according to Earthjustice attorney Ben Scrimshaw.

“We know that traps and snares capture, injure and kill non-target animals,” he added. “Flooding known lynx and grizzly habitat with yet more trapping activity will result in significant collateral damage to these protected species.”

After being exterminated in the early 20th Century, wolves were reintroduced into the West during the 1990s. Although that effort by wildlife experts was generally opposed by ranching and livestock industries, the wolves were protected by the federal mandates until recently.

The wolf population of Idaho is now estimated to 1,500 animals and recent legislation signed by Gov. Brad Little has allocated $600,000 to reduce that population by 90 percent.

Montana has enacted laws similar to those in Idaho, with the goal of reducing its wolf population by 85 percent. Wyoming is also allowing wolves to be hunted across most of the state.

Those new laws are not only opposed by environmentalists and wildlife advocates, but also by former officials of federal agencies.

“I don’t know how many times I said … wolves in the northern Rocky Mountains are recovered and no longer warrant Endangered Species Act protection,” said Dan Ashe, a 22-year veteran of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and its director from 2011 to 2017, while admitting those previous statements are no longer accurate.

“Today, an epidemic of cruelty toward wolves is erasing progress made to conserve this species,” he emphasizes. “The government must immediately reinstate protections for these animals.”

In January, President Joe Biden issued a memorandum pledging to support environmental efforts by Native American tribal leaders. In a recent interview, Biden also stated that he was in favor of protections for wolves. But no federal action blocking the wolf wars in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming has resulted from those comments.

Other recent protests against the wolf wars have included 85 members of the U.S. House of Representatives urging the Department of the Interior to re-list wolves on the Endangered Species Act; the attorneys general of Michigan and Oregon filling suit against the U.S. Fish Wildlife Service for improperly dropping the gray wolf from that federal statute; 400 renowned scientists petitioning Biden and Interior Secretary Deb Haaland to order emergency protection for gray wolves; indigenous tribal leaders signing a Wolf Treaty that symbolically protect that species; and a petition from 70 advocacy groups urging the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to renew protections for gray wolves.

Non-profit groups that have signaled their intent to join Earthjustice in the federal lawsuit against Idaho are the Center for Biological Diversity, Footloose Montana, Friends of the Clearwater, the International Wildlife Coexistence Network, Nimiipuu Protecting the Environment, the Sierra Club, Trap-Free Montana Public Lands, the Western Watersheds Project, Wilderness Watch and Wolves of the Rockies.

Idaho officials have 60 days to respond to the legal notice filed by Earthjustice in mid-July.

In June, Earthjustice lawyers also filed their intent to file suit against the state of Montana to block its new wolf-hunting laws.

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