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Lawsuit seeks to stop wolf trapping and snaring in Idaho

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BOISE, Idaho – More than a dozen environmental groups on Monday filed a lawsuit seeking to block Idaho’s recently expanded wolf trapping and snaring regulations.

The Center for Biological Diversity and others in the lawsuit filed against Republican Gov. Brad Little and state wildlife officials said the new regulations violate the Endangered Species Act because federally protected grizzly bears and lynx could be killed.

The groups are also asking the court to prohibit wolf trapping and snaring where lynx and grizzly bears are found until the case is decided on its merits.

For lynx, the conditions could cover most of Idaho except for the southwestern portion of the state. For grizzly bears, the areas would include portions of northern, central and eastern Idaho. Wolves are found in roughly the northern two-thirds of the state.

“Traps and snares are indiscriminate and the dangers to non-target species are well known,” said Benjamin Scrimshaw, associate attorney for Earthjustice’s Northern Rockies office. “The failure to take any effort to protect threatened grizzly bears and lynx while pushing the slaughter of wolves violates the Endangered Species Act.”

The Idaho attorney general’s office defends state agencies in lawsuits. Spokesman Scott Graf said the office had no comment on the lawsuit.

In May, Little signed a measure which lawmakers said could lead to killing 90 percent of the state’s 1,500 wolves through expanded trapping and hunting. It took effect July 1.

It was backed by hunters and the state’s powerful ranching sector but criticized by environmental groups. Backers said it would reduce the wolf population and attacks on livestock while also boosting deer and elk herds.

A primary change in the new law allows the state to hire private contractors to kill wolves and provides more money for state officials to hire the contractors. Idaho wildlife officials announced in October the state would make available $200,000 to be divided into payments for hunters and trappers who kill wolves in the state through next summer.

“The (Endangered Species Act) not only prohibits a person from taking a listed species, but it also prohibits a third party from authorizing or allowing a person to conduct an activity that results in the take of a listed species” the lawsuit states.

Besides setting up the reimbursement program, the new law also expands killing methods to include trapping and snaring wolves on a single hunting tag, no restriction on hunting hours, using night-vision equipment with a permit, using bait and dogs, and allowing hunting from motor vehicles. It also authorizes year-round wolf trapping on private property.

“In their zeal to reverse decades of effective, science-based conservation, Idaho politicians have not only endangered the long-term viability of Idaho’s wolves, they have recklessly promoted snaring and trapping that kill and maim both lynx and grizzly bears,” said Patrick Kelly, Idaho director with Western Watersheds Project.

State wildlife officials in late October said there had not been an increase in the number of wolves killed, but didn’t immediately respond with more recent numbers on Monday. A new wolf population estimate is expected in January.

About 500 wolves were killed in Idaho in both 2019 and 2020 by hunters, trappers and wolf control measures carried out by state and federal authorities.

In a related matter, Montana this year also expanded wolf killing.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in September, at the request of environmental groups concerned about the expanded wolf killing in the two states, announced a yearlong review to see if wolves in the U.S. West should be relisted under the Endangered Species Act.

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