Wednesday, July 30, 2014

F&G suspends wolf-killing program in wilderness

Program is part of effort to boost elk numbers

Express Staff Writer

A collared wolf moves through its territory in Idaho. Photo courtesy of Idaho Fish & Game

    The Idaho Department of Fish and Game has told a court that it will not resume a program to kill gray wolves in the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness until at least November 2015.
     Through the efforts of a hired trapper, the department killed nine wolves in the central-Idaho  wilderness area between mid-December 2013 and the end of January, when it announced that it had reached its immediate goal.
    The program is part of a larger strategy to help elk recovery in the backcountry. According to the department, elk cows and calves in the Middle Fork area have been vulnerable to predation, and the herd has declined significantly in recent years.  The number of elk calves surviving is too low to replace the adults dying each year, the department stated.
    Five conservation organizations, including the Hailey-based Western Watersheds Project, filed a lawsuit in federal court in January seeking to halt the program. The plaintiffs argued that the Forest Service’s approval and facilitation of the program violated the agency’s duty to protect the area’s wilderness character.
    The district court denied the groups’ request for an injunction, but that decision was appealed to the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in Pocatello.
    In a declaration filed with the court on July 24, department Wildlife Bureau Chief Jeff Gould stated that it will not conduct any control actions for wolves in the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness before Nov. 1, 2015. According to a news release from the plaintiff organizations, the department had previously advised the court that the program could resume as early as Dec. 1, 2014. Department spokesman Mike Keckler declined to comment on the department’s original plan or its reasons for changing it.
    However, the conservation groups credited the lawsuit for pressuring the department into making the change.
    “It is hard to imagine a decision more inconsistent with wilderness protection than to allow the hired killing of wolves,” said Travis Bruner, executive director of Western Watersheds Project, in the news release. “Today, some relief for wild places flows from the news that the Idaho Department of Fish and Game will not continue that odious operation this year. Next we will see whether the Forest Service will take action to protect the Frank Church Wilderness from such atrocities in the future.”
Greg Moore:

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