The fight over a predator-killing contest scheduled to take place around Salmon, Idaho, in January isn’t over yet.

    On Thursday, Nov. 13, the BLM approved a five-year permit to conduct a predator derby there each winter. Almost immediately, two coalitions of conservation groups each filed a lawsuit in federal court.

    The groups are asking that the BLM be ordered to carry out an environmental impact study of the potential effects of the proposed contest. In making its decision, the agency relied on a less extensive, 28-page environmental assessment. The assessment concluded that there would be no significant impact from the contest warranting an EIS.

    The suits seek a court order stopping the contest in the meantime.

    One suit was filed by Defenders of Wildlife, Center for Biological Diversity, Western Watersheds Project and Project Coyote in U.S. District Court in Boise.

    The other was filed by the Boulder-White Clouds Council, WildEarth Guardians and Cascadia Wildlands in U.S. District Court in Pocatello, Idaho.

    The first group of plaintiffs claims that the EA and related documents relied on “numerous factual and legal misstatements, omissions and unwarranted assumptions to downplay potentially significant adverse impacts to wildlife populations, recreational use, [wilderness study areas], and other environmental values.”

    The complaint states that a full EIS should be required partly due to the precedent being set by allowing the hunting contest on BLM land and to the conflict between its action and the federal wolf reintroduction program.

    The plaintiffs also question the BLM’s decision not to conduct an EIS in light of the fact that during two public comment periods, it received more than 100,000 comments, virtually all of which opposed the event. (The agency reported that almost all comments were copies of nine different form letters, though 491 of the 507 unique comments received during the final comment period expressed opposition.)

    “The BLM basically walked the applicants through the process, worked to drum up support among the Idaho Fish and Game Department, and developed a communications plan to defend their choice to issue the permit—long before the analysis was even complete,” said Western Watersheds Executive Director Travis Bruner in a news release.

    The contest organizer, a hunters group called Idaho for Wildlife, held a similar event last December, but did not use BLM land. Participants hunted on the Salmon-Challis National Forest, after the U.S. Forest Service said a permit was not required for contest hunting to take place there.

    The second lawsuit makes allegations similar to the suit filed by Defenders of Wildlife et al., but also challenges the Forest Service’s decision not to require a permit. The plaintiffs contend that the contest does not fall under any of the exceptions listed in agency regulations for special-use permit requirements for group activities.

    That suit seeks a temporary injunction prohibiting the contest on Forest Service or BLM land.

    Defenders of Wildlife and its co-plaintiffs are represented by Boise-based environmental law organization Advocates for the West. Organization attorney Laird Lucas said in an interview that he hopes to negotiate with the Justice Department over an expedited litigation schedule to resolve the case quickly. However, he said that if that approach cannot be agreed upon, the plaintiffs will almost certainly seek an injunction. In that case, he said, he would expect a hearing by mid-December.

    The predator derby is scheduled for Jan. 2-4, 2015. Targeted species include wolves, coyotes, skunks, weasels, jackrabbits and raccoons.

Email the writer: gmoore@mtexpress.com

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