BOISE, Idaho (CN) - Environmentalists sued the U.S. Bureau of Land Management Tuesday for information about a "Predator Derby" that pays people "cash and prizes" for shooting gray wolves in Idaho.
The Center for Biological Diversity and the Western Watersheds Project call the derby a "killing contest," in their federal lawsuit. They say the BLM has not responded to their July Freedom of Information Act request for details about the derby, on private and public lands in the pristine Salmon-Challis National Forest, near Salmon, Idaho.
"This action challenges BLM's refusal to provide records that concern the Derby under FOIA," the complaint states. "Plaintiffs have not received any determination under FOIA - or, despite inquiry, any indication of when they may receive one - from BLM since the Center sent its FOIA request to BLM on July 31, 2015."
The derby, sponsored by the Idaho for Wildlife organization, was held in December 2013 and again in January this year.
In 2013, "the BLM attempted to issue a permit for the Derby but did not do so," because it "did not have sufficient time to comply with NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act)" to include 3 million acres of public land in the killing contest, the groups say.
In November 2014, the BLM did issue a permit for the January 2015 derby, but withdrew the permit a week later for reasons that remain undisclosed.
"I don't why they did, and it would only be speculation to say, but we want to know why they withdrew their approval for the permit, which is part of the reason we have filed this lawsuit," Center for Biological Diversity attorney Meg Townsend, told Courthouse News. "It's about a lack of transparency."
The Idaho State Journal reported in January this year that no wolves were killed in either derby. "For the second straight year, hunters participating in a controversial predator hunting derby ... failed to kill any wolves," according to the newspaper.
About 30 coyotes were killed this year in the event, which offered $1,000 for the most wolf kills.
Townsend said she does not know if there will be a derby in 2016, but The Associated Press reported Tuesday that event organizers have not planned one.
"We don't care about lawsuits, but we failed miserably at harvesting a wolf," Idaho for Wildlife executive director Steve Alder told the AP. "There's no point getting sponsorships and doing this and that and not being able to get a wolf."
But Townsend said another derby could be held at any time.
"It could happen next year, or any number of years in the future," she told the AP. "And without this information we've requested from the BLM, it's very difficult to know how they would regulate these wildlife-killing contests."
The plaintiffs' FOIA request is related to a pending case from Pocatello Federal Court, filed in November 2014. In WildEarth Guardians v. Kraayenbrink, five environmental groups claims that that the BLM's "Environmental Assessment for Predator Hunt Derby Special Recreation Permit" and associated Finding of No Significant Impact and Decision of Record violate NEPA.
They also want the court to declare that the BLM must issue a special recreation permit that complies with NEPA before it can hold any more derbies.
The Center for Biological Diversity filed a similar FOIA complaint against the BLM in Washington, D.C.
"This is not the only case in which the Center must prosecute BLM's refusal to provide records that concern the Derby under FOIA," according to the Boise complaint. "In another complaint that is being filed today in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, the Center is pursuing FOIA violations against BLM that stem from another FOIA request, for which BLM has likewise refused to search for and provide all responsive, Derby-related records that are located at the agency's Washington, D.C. headquarters."
Wolves in Idaho
Conservationists say the contest is the first in Idaho to include gray wolves as a "target species" since the 1970's.
Wolves were nearly extirpated in the United States by the 1950s, but the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service began listing certain species as endangered in the mid-1970's.
The gray wolf was listed as threatened in 1978 and later listed as endangered.
In 1980, the Northern Rocky Mountain Wolf Recovery Team completed a plan to guide wolf recovery in northwestern Montana, central Idaho and Yellowstone National Park for decades, according to Montana's Fish, Wildlife and Parks department.
Under heated public debate, the Canadian gray wolf was reintroduced in these areas, triggering a feud between groups representing a wide cross-section of interests, including conservation, recreation and business, namely cattle.
Today, packs of wolves have flourished, and some groups claim their recovery has resulted in damage to elk herds.
The wolves were removed from the endangered species list in 2011 and management of the species reverted to the states.
Idaho's Fish and Game department began issuing seasonal hunting permits for the animal that same year.
The Center for Biological Diversity is represented by Townsend, in Portland, Ore.; and by Andrea Santarsiere, in Victor, Idaho.
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