Conservationists have taken their effort to halt a wilderness wolf-killing program to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit after a federal judge in Idaho rejected their request to stop the unprecedented program Friday afternoon.
Represented by Earthjustice, the conservationists are seeking a court injunction to stop a program by the U.S. Forest Service and Idaho Department of Fish and Game (IDFG) to exterminate two wolf packs deep within central Idaho’s Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness, the largest forested wilderness area in the lower-48 states.
In mid-December 2013, IDFG hired a hunter-trapper to pack into the 2.4-million-acre Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness to exterminate 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 exempting the activity from normal permitting requirements. To date, available information indicates that the program has killed nine wolves, with wolf extermination efforts continuing.
“We are disappointed that the Idaho court did not halt this unprecedented wolf extermination program within one of the nation’s premiere wilderness areas,” said Tim Preso, the Earthjustice attorney handling the case. “We respectfully disagree with the court’s ruling and intend to ask the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to take action to protect the wilderness and to preserve the remaining wolves.”
Earthjustice is representing 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 a lawsuit challenging the wolf extermination program. The conservationists argue that the U.S. Forest Service’s approval and facilitation of the program violated the agency’s duty to protect the wilderness character of the Frank Church Wilderness. They have requested a court injunction to prohibit further implementation of the wolf extermination program until their case can be resolved.
“We are extremely disappointed that the court refused to put an immediate stop to Idaho’s wolf eradication program in the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness,” said Jonathan Proctor, of Defenders of Wildlife. “Killing wolves to artificially increase elk herds for hunters is no way to manage a wilderness area. We plan to seek an immediate appeal of the court's order."
The region of the Frank Church Wilderness where IDFG’s hunter-trapper is 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.