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Hired Gun Kills Wolves in Idaho Wilderness

BOISE, Idaho (CN) - Idaho and the federal government are illegally using a hired gun to exterminate native gray wolves in Idaho to save elk for human hunters, environmentalists claim in court.

Defenders of Wildlife et al. claim the Idaho Department of Fish and Game (IDFG) hired a "hunter-trapper" in December 2013 to "eradicate" wolves in a remote area of the 2.3 million-acre Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness.

The unidentified "agent" is authorized to use a Forest Service airstrip and cabin as a base while he kills wolves in the Golden Creek and Monumental Creek packs.

"IDFG instructed its hunter-trapper agent to exterminate every individual wolf in these packs and agreed to pay him for doing so," the complaint states.

The purpose is to "inflate the local elk populations for the benefit of commercial outfitters and recreational hunters," according to the 28-page lawsuit.

Lead plaintiff Ralph Maughan is a professor emeritus at Idaho State. He and co-plaintiffs Defenders of Wildlife, Western Watersheds Project and Wilderness Ranch sued Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, U.S. Forest Chief Tom Tidwell and regional forester Nora Rasure, along with Idaho Department of Fish and Game Director Virgil Moore and Payette National Forest Supervisor Keith Lannom.

The environmentalists claim the state and federal governments violated state and federal law, including the Forest Service's own management plan for the area.

Congress delisted the gray wolf as an endangered species in 2011 after its reintroduction to the Frank Church Wilderness in 1995.

Since 2011, the IDFG has managed controlled hunts of wolves to bulk up elk populations for hunters, but the state and federal agencies decided there are still too many wolves.

That's when the illegal extermination plan was hatched, according to the environmentalists who say the IDFG and Forest Service failed to fulfill their obligation to let other federal agencies and the public know what they were up to.

"Because of the importance of wolves to the wilderness character of the Frank Church Wilderness, the Service's governing land management plan prohibits actions to remove 'problem animals' from the wilderness unless and until Service undertakes specified interagency coordination procedures and secures the approval of the regional forester," the complaint states.

Ordering the extermination of wolves violates the 1964 Wilderness Act, the National Forest Management Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, and the Administrative Procedure Act, according to the lawsuit.

The environmentalists seek a court to rescind the extermination program, and/or an injunction prohibiting any further extermination of the gray wolf in the Frank Church Wilderness.

They are represented by Andrea Santarsiere, on Victor, Idaho, with assistance from Timothy Preso, of Earthjustice, in Bozeman, Mont.

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