BOISE, Idaho (CN) – An “Idaho Predator Hunt Derby” targeting gray wolves, coyotes and even starlings is unprecedented and illegal, environmentalists claim in two federal lawsuits.
The Bureau of Land Management has approved the “Idaho Predator Hunt Derby,” which gives special permit holders the right to kill gray wolves and coyotes on three million acres of federal and private land in eastern and Central Idaho.
Up to 500 entrants can register annually for the five-year, three-day competition, which begins Jan. 1, 2015.
Targets of the derby, which is open to youth hunters, include skunks, weasels, jackrabbits, raccoons and European starlings. Hunters will be awarded cash and prizes for the most, and biggest kills.
BLM approval of the derby has thrown advocacy groups into a frenzy.
Defenders of Wildlife, the Center for Biological Diversity, Western Watersheds Project and Project Coyote sued the BLM and its District Manager Joseph Kraayenbrink on Nov. 13, saying the derby goes against everything they, and the federal government, has strived for.
“Gray wolves were protected under the ESA [Endangered Species Act] for more than 30 years in the Northern Rockies due to human persecution … and the federal government invested heavily in winning the social acceptance of wolves through the wolf reintroduction program,” the environmentalists say in the 33-page lawsuit.
On the same day, WildEarth Guardians, Cascadia Wildlands and Boulder-White Clouds Council filed a nearly identical lawsuit against the same defendants, describing the derby as a “killing contest.”
Both lawsuits claim the killing contests violate the National Environmental Policy Act and the Administrative Procedures Act.
The derby was conceived by the group Idaho for Wildlife, a Salmon, Idaho-based group that is dedicated to “protect[ing] Idaho’s hunting and fishing heritage,” according to its website.
The derby comes as no surprise to environmentalists who have chimed in on almost two decades of controversy brought about by the wolf’s reintroduction to the wilds.
Three dozen gray wolves, then a protected species under the Endangered Species Act, were brought in from Canada under the federal government’s reintroduction program in 1995.
The wolf has been a contentious issue in Idaho ever since, creating an ideological chasm between hunters and ranchers, who say the wolves have decimated elk and other herds, and environmentalists who say they are part of the natural ecosystem.
The animal was delisted in 2009 based on significantly rebounded numbers. Consequently, wolf hunting seasons were established.
Today some 650 wolves roam the forests of Idaho, according to the Idaho Department of Fish and Game. There were once more than 350,000 in the Western U.S. before hunting and trapping devastated the population.
The BLM has authority under the Federal Land Policy and Management Act to regulate permits, including special use permits, for the use of public lands (for nonprofit uses), according to both complaints.
Under the FLPMA, however, the BLM is obligated to “proactively” protect “sensitive species,” including the gray wolf.
The plaintiffs say the BLM violated NEPA by not preparing a full Environmental Impact Statement on the effects the derby will have on animals and the environment.
Competitive hunting for wolves on public lands in Idaho has never before been authorized, according to the plaintiffs, who say the derby is “incompatible with modern-day wildlife management principles and ethical hunting practices. Indeed, the Idaho Department of Fish and Game has a policy to ‘not support any contests or similar activities involving the taking of predators, which may portray hunting in an unethical fashion, devalue the predator, and which may be offensive to the general public.'”
The BLM has received more than 100,000 comments from people in Idaho and around the world, including Idaho’s Shoshone-Bannock Tribes, scientists and other organizations who oppose the Idaho Predator Hunt Derby, according to the Defenders complaint.
The WildEarth complaint added another aspect of the derby they say is cause for concern – public safety.
“The contest occurs in the middle of the holidays on the weekend following New Years Day,” the complaint states. “During this time, many families have time off work, can recreate on public lands and head out to test out new skis, snowshoes, sleds, snowsuits and snowmobiles. The derby concentrates shooters on public lands.”
The BLM approved the hunt based on only a “cursory Environmental Assessment, Finding No Significant Impact and Decision of Record, which are riddled with factual and scientific misstatements, omissions and legal errors; and which fail to address the direct, indirect and cumulative impacts associated with BLM’s approval of the proposed derby,” the WildEarth plaintiffs claim.
In addition, “the BLM Manual states that any action to control predators should be undertaken in certain limited circumstance – e.g. to prevent disease transmission, to protect livestock … or to enhance recovery of endangered or threatened species – none of which are present here,” the Defenders’ complaint states.
The groups want the approval set aside and enjoined as arbitrary and capricious, an abuse of discretion and illegal under the FLPMA, NEPA and APA.
The Defender’s are represented by Laurence “Laird” Lucas, with advocates for the West, of Boise, and Amy Atwood, with the Center for Biological Diversity, in Portland, Ore.
The WildEarth plaintiffs’ lead counsel is Celeste Miller, with McDevitt & Miller, of Boise, Idaho.
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