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Danger to Wolves Mounts in Idaho, Across U.S.

State officials and some groups in Idaho are continuing their relentless persecution of the gray wolf, with almost 250 wolves killed so far during the 2013-14 season alone. This week, the Idaho Department of Fish and Game released its predator management plan for the Middle Fork area of the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness. The plan details IDFG’s intentions to reduce the wolf population in that area by 60 percent through several years of professional hunting and trapping efforts to inflate the local elk population.

In a related action, on Friday Earthjustice was back in court seeking to permanently halt Idaho’s wolf killing program in central Idaho’s Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness.

In December, the IDFG—with support from the U.S. Forest Service—sent a hunter/trapper into the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness to exterminate two wolf packs. Earthjustice filed an emergency motion asking the Ninth Circuit to preserve the wolves targeted by IDFG’s program and to protect these wolves’ vital contribution to the wilderness character of the largest forested wilderness in the lower-48 states.

The IDFG temporarily halted the professional hunter/trapper’s work until the end of the state’s fiscal year. While IDFG claimed to have exterminated the two packs, the agency does not know how many wolves existed in the remote location occupied by the two packs before the state’s killing program. Based on first-hand reports about the wolf population in the area, it appears likely that some members of the targeted wolf packs survived IDFG’s program—for now. Our court case continues to ensure that this wolf killing deep in Idaho’s wilderness is halted for good.

Wolf tracks. (Pi-Lens / Shutterstock)Wolf tracks. (Pi-Lens / Shutterstock)

In other troubling Idaho news, Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter announced a proposal for $2 million in “startup funds” for “wolf population control” in that state. That’s state taxpayer money from the general fund to subsidize wolf killing in the interest of private ranchers and some commercial hunting outfitters and recreational hunters.

According to Idaho state senator Jeff Siddoway—himself an Idaho rancher—the fund will “allow more people to go out and actually do the [wolf] hunting and trapping. It’ll finance that. Some of the work may be done aerially either by fixed-wing (aircraft) or helicopter, depending on the terrain.”

Not to be outdone by their state government, an Idaho group of Idaho elk hunters hasve formed essentially a wolf-trapping co-op to incentivize people to trap wolves. The group works like this: for a $35 membership fee, people can join the group. If a member then successfully traps a wolf, he/she can submit expenses and be reimbursed up to $500 per wolf.

According to reports, last year this group wrote 22 checks for $500 each to people who killed wolves during the trapping season. Among this groups’ board members is a former Idaho Fish and Game commissioner and elk hunter who had this to say about the group’s efforts: “I think for $35 a year I can afford to pay a trapper to go and trap wolves for my benefit. It’s an expense fee. It’s an enticement to get hunters and trappers out there, and it’s working.”

Nationally, the fate of the gray wolf remains in the hands of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which has proposed removing all federal protections for gray wolves in the lower-48 states except for a very small population of Mexican wolves in the Southwest. Earthjustice and our partners have been working hard to convince the FWS to reverse course, arguing that this proposal would be devastating for wolf recovery in the United States. Nearly 80,000 Earthjustice activists have also weighed in with the FWS to oppose the national delisting plan as part of nearly 1 million combined total comments in opposition to the proposal.

But we do have some good news to report on the FWS national delisting plan: Last Friday an independent peer review panel asked by FWS to review the science behind the national delisting proposal released its findings. This independent science panel found unanimously that FWS’s proposed national delisting rule does not represent the “best available science.” This report is very significant because the Endangered Species Act mandates that the best available science be used and considered when listing or delisting a species. The FWS has reopened the comment period on its national wolf delisting proposal in light of the independent scientists’ findings—so more to come.

We’ll continue the fight to protect wolves in the wilderness of Idaho and across the lower-48 states. Wolves still very much need federal protections to guard them from extreme anti-wolf policies such as those developing in Idaho.

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unEARTHED is a forum for the voices and stories of the people behind Earthjustice's work. The views and opinions expressed in this blog do not necessarily represent the opinion or position of Earthjustice or its board, clients, or funders. Learn more about Earthjustice.