Court Rejects Wolf Advocate Arguments
by Cat Urbigkit, Pinedale Online!
January 19, 2014
Wolf advocates in Idaho have brought forth two lawsuits in federal district court in the last month challenging the harvest (or potential harvest) of wolves in that state, but in both cases, their requests to stop the action were denied by the court.
The first case was filed by Wild Earth Guardians, Project Coyote, Western Watersheds Project, Boulder-White Clouds Council, and the Animal Welfare Institute. These animal advocates filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Forest Service, seeking a restraining order to prevent a wolf and coyote hunting derby in the Salmon, Idaho area. The groups argued that the Forest Service must comply with the National Environmental Policy Act when considering allowing such an activity to occur on national forest lands, and for such a hunt to take place, a special use authorization must be required. Members of these groups alleged they would be harmed by the two-day derby, the court noted, because "their use and enjoyment of the forest will be diminished during the two days of the derby hunt. Specifically, the individuals aver that they will be adversely affected because they will be unable to hike and enjoy the forest over the weekend due to the concentration of hunters, and may be subjected to the possibility of viewing coyotes and wolves being shot by derby participants, or seeing dead or wounded animals."
The court noted that "USFS regulations do not require a special use authorization for noncommercial recreational activities such as hunting" and the derby organizers "are encouraging the use of the forest for a lawful activity---hunting---and, to compete for prizes, the derby participants must return to Salmon to claim them. None of the judging, awarding of prizes, or viewing of the animals will be on USFS lands. Only hunting will occur there."
The court continued: "Plaintiffs’ general description of their collective fear for their safety and that of their families and pets because of the two-day event does not describe a fear different than what would otherwise occur during hunting season in general. Hunting is legal, authorized, and encouraged during this same time period regardless of derby participation. Wolf hunting season will continue after the derby until March of 2014, unless harvest limits are reached earlier. Coyotes have no hunting season, and may be killed in concentrated amounts at any time.
"Plaintiffs claim they will witness animals being killed or see dead animal carcasses, and will be frightened by shooters and gunshots in a concentrated time and place. However, Plaintiffs may see dead animal carcasses regardless of the derby, because it is hunting season. Further, the forest comprises hundreds of acres, and Plaintiffs have not identified how an increase in hunting over such a large area will ruin the enjoyment of the forest during a two-day period, when people may hunt on public, private, or USFS managed lands."
In denying the request to halt the derby, the court wrote: "While Plaintiffs and others may find the concept of a derby and prizes being awarded for the killing of animals repugnant, hunting is a lawful activity in Idaho."
The decision was signed by U.S. Magistrate Judge Candy W. Dale.
The derby went on as planned, and media accounts note that 21 coyotes were harvested, but no wolves.
The second case was filed earlier this month in response to the Idaho Department of Fish & Game's decision to hire a wolf hunter to eliminate two packs of wolves in the Frank Church Wilderness with the goal of helping the area's elk population recover from low calf survival. Ralph Maughan, Defenders of Wildlife, Western Watersheds Project, Wilderness Watch and Center for Biological Diversity filed a lawsuit in federal district court in Idaho against the U.S. Forest Service and the director of the Idaho Department of Fish and Game. Although it was the state wildlife agency that hired the wolf hunter, his hunting activities would take place with the Forest Service-administered wilderness area, and the Forest Service had agreed to allow the hunter to use a Forest Service cabin, as requested by state game managers.
"The conduct challenged in this action is IDFG’s hiring of a hunter-trapper in mid-December of 2013 to 'completely eradicate two of the resident wolf packs' in the Frank Church Wilderness, the Golden Creek and Monumental Creek wolf packs, and the Federal Defendants’ allowing/permitting of such activity. Plaintiffs challenge that the Defendants’ did not undertake any environmental review, permitting review, or interagency consultation nor secure the requisite approval needed to undertake such a program ..."
Federal Judge Edward J. Lodge rejected the request for a restraining order and injunction, noting that the Plaintiffs had not shown a likelihood of success on the merits of the case, or raised serious questions such that issuance of an injunction was warranted, nor shown any irreparable injury.