Groups Sue USFS/IDFG Over Hunter Hired to Kill Wolves in Frank Church Wilderness

Hired Wolf Hunter
The following is a press release from the groups:A coalition of conservationists, represented by the non-profit environmental law firm Earthjustice, today asked a federal judge in Idaho to halt an unprecedented program by the U.S. Forest Service and Idaho Department of Fish and Game (IDFG) to exterminate two wolf packs deep within the largest forested wilderness area in the lower-48 states.In mid-December 2013, IDFG hired a hunter-trapper to pack into central Idaho’s 2.4-million-acre Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness to eradicate 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 airstrip to support wolf extermination activities.

“A wilderness is supposed to be a wild place governed by natural conditions, not an elk farm,” said Earthjustice attorney Timothy Preso. “Wolves are a key part of that wild nature and we are asking a judge to protect the wilderness by stopping the extermination of two wolf packs.”

Earthjustice is representing long-time Idaho conservationist and wilderness advocate Ralph Maughan along with three conservation groups—Defenders of Wildlife, Western Watersheds Project, and Wilderness Watch—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.

“Idaho’s program to eliminate two wolf packs from the Frank Church Wilderness Area for perceived benefits to elk hunting is just the most recent example of the state bending over backwards to accommodate the wishes of people who hate wolves,” said Jonathan Proctor of Defenders of Wildlife. “Wilderness areas are places for wildlife to remain as wild as is possible in today’s modern world. If Idaho’s wildlife officials won’t let wolves and elk interact naturally in the Frank Church Wilderness, then clearly they will allow it nowhere. The U.S. Forest Service must immediately prohibit the use of national forest wilderness areas for this hostile and shortsighted wolf eradication program.”

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.

“As someone who has enjoyed watching members of the Golden Pack and spent time in the area where these wolves live, I am startled that IDFG thinks it is acceptable to kill them off. If wolves can’t live inside one of America’s biggest wilderness areas without a government extermination program then where can they live?” asked Ken Cole of Western Watersheds Project. “The value of wilderness is not solely to provide outfitters elk to shoot,” Cole added.

“The 1964 Wilderness Act requires the Forest Service to protect the wilderness character of the Frank Church Wilderness,” added Gary Macfarlane of Wilderness Watch.  “By allowing Idaho to exterminate wolves in the Frank Church Wilderness and degrade that wilderness character, the Forest Service is violating the Wilderness Act.”

Read the Complaint

UPDATE: From the court filing:

Plaintiffs learned from counsel for defendant Virgil Moore that, as of January 2, 2014, IDFG’s hired hunter-trapper had killed seven wolves within the targeted wolf packs, six by trapping and one by hunting, and that more wolves may have been killed as of today. Defendant Moore’s counsel further advised that IDFG’s only means of communication with the hunter-trapper is a satellite telephone in the hunter-trapper’s possession, and that, to preserve the phone’s batteries, the hunter-trapper turns on the phone only when he places a call.

17 thoughts on “Groups Sue USFS/IDFG Over Hunter Hired to Kill Wolves in Frank Church Wilderness”

  1. Well, if the hired hunter gets snowed out, he can perhaps go to northern California and become a Barred Owl shooter.

  2. A district judge on Friday denied a request from conservationists to block Idaho’s efforts to trap and kill two wolf packs targeted for eradication in a federally protected wilderness area for preying on elk prized by hunters.

    District Judge Edward Lodge sided with Idaho and the Forest Service in finding that no reviews were necessary since federal land managers had yet to determine if eliminating wolf packs in the 2.4 million-acre Frank Church conflicts with preservation requirements spelled out in the federal Wilderness Act.

    “No final agency action has been taken in regards to the Wilderness Act,” Lodge wrote in Friday’s ruling.

    The Order:

  3. I think the judge recognized a political hot potato and punted (to either the 9th Circuit or to later in the game in the district court.)

    The reasoning in this opinion would allow a state to start building a highway across a designated wilderness area, and this would violate neither the Wilderness Act nor NEPA as long as the Forest Service ‘has neither approved not disapproved’ the state’s activities and has ‘not had an opportunity to make a determination’. Should the answer be different if the state had decided to use snowmobiles for wolf extermination in the wilderness? What if these were the last wolves in Idaho? Is there still no legal recourse until the Forest Service does something?

    At least the judge expects the Forest Service to eventually make a determination that could be reviewed. That expectation would have to be based on the fact that at some point there is a legal duty to comply with Wilderness Act requirement that the Forest Service ‘shall be responsible for preserving the wilderness character of the area …’ and to demonstrate that compliance with an administrative record.

    The Forest Service error may actually be in failing to establish permit requirements needed to both comply with the Wilderness Act and to implement its forest plan direction for animal control. This lack of current regulatory mechanisms could come into play in the pending de-listing (or future re-listing) process.

    I look forward to seeing the scientific arguments about the ‘natural condition’ of the elk and wolf populations required by the Wilderness Act.

    • I don’t hunt. But, if I did, I could kill a wolf in an Idaho wilderness without the Forest Service’s permission. If I rented a Forest Service lookout as base camp for my hunt, does that make my hunt a Forest Service-regulated activity? That’s the argument plaintiffs make here. It’s a slim hook on which to hang their complaint.

      By the way, I also don’t ride a snowmobile. But, if I did, I could not ride a snowmobile in an Idaho wilderness without risking a citation from the Forest Service. Nor could I build a road, steal a tree, or grow pot without fear of Forest Service prosecution. The Friends-of-Wilderness couldn’t sue me for any of these illegal activities. Nor could the FOW sue the Forest Service if it chose to devote its prosecutorial budget to other crimes than mine.

      • I do hunt, but wouldn’t never shot a wolf, bear, mountain lion, etc. I also think that Andy’s opening “slim hook” analogy isn’t an accurate comparison for a number of reasons (see bold below):

        In mid-December 2013, IDFG hired a hunter-trapper to pack into central Idaho’s 2.4-million-acre Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness to eradicate 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 airstrip to support wolf extermination activities.

        Seems to me that a paid, hired wolf hunter, who is given special treatment/authorization in the form of access to a Forest Service cabin and airstrip, is different than simply Joe Hunter renting a Forest Service cabin to go hunting on USFS land.

        • It may seem so to you, Matt, but it didn’t seem so to the judge.

          Your argument implies that the State of Idaho should be more regulated by the Forest Service when it comes to wolf hunting than should the regular citizen hunter. Idaho owns the wolves. Idaho has exclusive authority to determine wolf management. Why should the FS subject Idaho to special-use permit and NEPA processes when Joe Schmo Hunter can kill up to five wolves annually in the Frank Church Wilderness with no federal approval needed? Joe can use the airstrip, too, without a special-use permit, as can anyone else. And Joe can rent a FS cabin, lookout, campsite or just camp on federal land, too, without a special-use permit, as can anyone else.

  4. I agree with Matt that the state is essentially using national forest lands for commercial purposes, which should come under the purview of the special use permit system.

    I agree with Andy that courts do not readily find a duty to act that can be enforceable (though the Wilderness Act may be different).

    Together that leads me to think that actions the Forest Service HAS taken – development of special use regulations, MOU with the Idaho Fish and Game, forest plan – would be better targets as actions that fail to protect wilderness characteristics. (Similar to how the 9th Circuit found a travel plan inadequate to protect Montana Wilderness Study Areas.)

    • Outfitters who guide hunters on national forest lands are required to have a special-use permit because their commercial activity occurs on federal land.

      The FS does not require states, which sell licenses to harvest the state’s game, to acquire a special-use permit. Should it?

      Several states, e.g., California, also impose a license fee on off-road vehicle owners. Should the FS require a special-use permit for the sale of ORV licenses when the ORVs are used on federal land? Oregon imposes a forest products harvest tax on anyone who cuts timber on federal land (and any other land in Oregon, too). Should the FS require Oregon to obtain a special-use permit because of this revenue-generating “commercial” activity?

      Bottom-line. If environmentalists don’t like wolf hunting in delisted states they would better spend their time & scarce dollars making their case to the legislatures and administrative agencies that decide the when, how, who, and why wolves can be killed, i.e., the states.

  5. Except that federal laws can preempt state laws, including fish and game laws. Which is why the FS told Louisiana it couldn’t hunt big game with dogs on national forests (and was upheld in court). The FS could choose to act here, but the bigger question I think is whether the Wilderness Act requires it to.

    • Two corollaries to “whether the Wilderness Act requires it to.” First, does the Wilderness Act authorize the FS to regulate a state’s management of wildlife in wilderness areas? I agree with Jon — “Yes” to that question. Second, does the Wilderness Act create a non-discretionary duty to do so that is enforceable in federal court by a private person through the APA. I’m leaning “no” on that question.

      In its briefing in this case, the FS has had to walk this narrow tightrope. On the one hand, the FS wants to protect its authority to regulate Idaho’s wolf killing within the wilderness should it determine that Idaho is going too far. On the other hand, the FS doesn’t want to create an APA cause of action for the environmental plaintiffs by making a decision that can be challenged in court.

      Which begs another question. Would the Forest Service have taken a stronger stance vis a vis Idaho’s wolf “extermination,” but for its fear of an environmental lawsuit claiming the FS didn’t go far enough? In other words, have the environmental plaintiffs shot themselves in the foot — and the wolves, too? Would a non-litigation strategy have worked better?

  6. when wolves were reintroduced that screwed up the balance they should have just let them repopulate naturally there is no fences between Canada and the lower forty eight. When you put some thing some where it was not that has to be considered unnatural. I know you will say they were there before but does that make it right to move a family to a place they didn’t know, just thank about it you guys say they have feelings well that sucks. A big question I have had for a long time is how can a wolf that has a huge population in Canada and Alaska be endangered. Is it the unseen boarder that makes it that way we captured an endangered species and moved it some where or was it only endangered after we moved it? Something does not make sense to this outdoorsman.


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