A coalition of conservation organizations has appealed a decision by a U.S. federal court judge to permit a program by the Idaho Department of Fish and Game to eradicate two wolf packs in the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness.
Tim Preso, an attorney with the Bozeman, Mont., office of the nonprofit environmental law firm Earthjustice, which is headquartered in San Francisco, Calif., said the appeal was filed Friday, Jan. 17, the same day that the district court decision was handed down.
“We are disappointed that the Idaho court did not halt this unprecedented wolf extermination program within one of the nation’s premier wilderness areas.”
In mid-December, the Idaho Department of Fish and Game hired a hunter-trapper to eradicate the two wolf packs in the interest of increasing elk populations around the Middle Fork of the Salmon River and Big Creek, a tributary. The department said it hired a professional hunter and trapper because the area is too remote for many recreational hunters to get to. The department reported that as of late last week, he had killed nine wolves, one shot and eight killed after being caught in traps.
On Jan. 7, a complaint seeking an injunction against the program was filed in U.S. District Court in Pocatello by Earthjustice on behalf of Hailey-based Western Watersheds Project, Defenders of Wildlife, Wilderness Watch and longtime Idaho conservationist Ralph Maughan.
The plaintiffs contended that the U.S. Forest Service violated several federal laws when it allowed the hunter to use a backcountry airstrip and a bunkhouse. They claimed that the agency was obligated to conduct an environmental review before making its decision, and that the decision conflicted with the agency’s obligation to protect the wilderness character of the area.
On Friday, Jan. 17, District Judge Edward Lodge denied the motion for an injunction on rather technical grounds, determining that the Forest Service’s approval of the Department of Fish and Game’s request did not constitute a “major federal action” subject to judicial review.
“The actions of the Federal defendants concerning the airstrip and the bunkhouse appear to be nothing more than the USFS District Ranger informing IDFG which public airstrips were open and that the USFS bunkhouse in the area was unused and available for IDFG’s use,” Lodge stated.
Lodge also ruled that the plaintiffs had not shown a likelihood of irreparable harm should the motion for an injunction be denied, on the grounds that the wolf population in Idaho has increased since the animals were reintroduced and that the Department of Fish and Game does not seek to eradicate the species.
“We are disappointed that the Idaho court did not halt this unprecedented wolf extermination program within one of the nation’s premier wilderness areas,” Preso said.
He said federal court rules allow for expedited handling of cases involving motions for injunctions and temporary restraining orders.
“We’ll probably be on that track,” he said.