Start of wolf hunt nears with no ruling yet from judge
BOISE – While a federal judge ponders whether to issue an injunction stopping wolf hunts in Idaho and Montana, Idaho hunters are heading into the woods, ready to target wolves a half-hour before sunrise today.
Marv Hagedorn, an Idaho state representative who’s been hunting since he was a youngster in Potlatch, Idaho, plans to head out at 3 a.m. Hagedorn, R-Meridian, said he’s not counting on bagging an elusive wolf.
“We call it hunting and not finding for a reason,” he said. “It’s more of a celebration of gaining our right as a state to manage our wildlife again, all of our wildlife.”
Thirteen conservation groups that went to court Monday morning seeking the injunction were disappointed the judge didn’t rule from the bench. “It’s just all in limbo right now,” said Suzanne Asha Stone, Northern Rockies representative for Defenders of Wildlife.
“It could come within a matter of days or within a matter of weeks,” Jenny Harbine, an attorney with Earthjustice, the environmental law firm representing the groups, said Monday, “and of course the Idaho wolf hunt will start tomorrow.”
Idaho Fish and Game officials spent a busy day fielding national media inquiries and hurriedly preparing signs to warn away hunters in case the judge halts the hunts after hunters are in the field.
More than 10,000 Idaho hunters already have bought tags for the state’s first-ever wolf hunt, and in two zones, the Lolo and the Sawtooth, the season opens today. Both those zones are remote enough that some hunters could be far out in the woods, with no radio or cell phone reception to learn of an injunction.
Game wardens are standing by to print out closure signs if needed and get them posted at access points, said Ed Mitchell, Idaho Fish and Game conservation information supervisor. The signs say, in bold letters, “Wolf hunt closed by federal court action.”
“They’re on hold now,” Mitchell said.
U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy in Missoula heard three hours of arguments on both sides on Monday, then took the matter under advisement, saying he’d rule “as quickly as I can.”
Doug Honnold of Earthjustice said wolves, considered endangered until May of this year, remain at risk because the states lack sufficient safeguards to protect them. “It’s the endangered species that need to be protected, not the states’ rights to kill wolves,” he said.
Michael Eitel, representing the Fish and Wildlife Service, said the agency would keep monitoring the wolves and step in to return the species to the endangered list if warranted. “The Northern Rocky Mountain wolves are doing very well,” Eitel said. “Yes there might be wolves that are killed, but that will not affect the population in Idaho and Montana.”
Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden said, “The plaintiffs gave an indication that they didn’t trust the state of Idaho to properly manage wolves.”
Stone noted that Idaho lawmakers passed a resolution in 2001 demanding that “wolf recovery efforts in Idaho be discontinued immediately, and wolves be removed by whatever means necessary.” The non-binding measure, HJM 5, passed the House 53-2 and the Senate 30-3.
“It’s clear that Idaho has a long history of being hostile to wolves,” she said.
Idaho plans to allow hunters to kill up to 220 wolves – about a quarter of the state’s wolf population – while Montana has set its statewide limit at 75 wolves. The season in the North Idaho Panhandle starts Oct. 1.
Molloy is the same judge who issued an injunction in 2008 blocking planned wolf hunts. Since then, wolves have been removed from the endangered species list in Idaho and Montana, but they continue to be listed in Wyoming, because that state’s wolf management plans haven’t met federal standards.
Idaho plans to allow hunters to kill up to 220 wolves – about a quarter of the state’s wolf population – while Montana has set its limit at 75 wolves. The season starts in the North Idaho Panhandle on Oct. 1.
One concern Molloy raised when he issued the 2008 injunction was the lack of evidence of genetic mixing between the wolf populations in the various states.
“I don’t think he was provided with enough information on that issue last year,” Mitchell said. “Since he talked about it, both states have gathered up a lot more information about it.”
Evidence of genetic mixing would show that, rather than isolated populations that could, in time, develop genetic problems that could lead to extinction, the wolf population in the region is a single, viable population, Mitchell said.
The gray wolf was declared endangered in Idaho in 1974; 35 wolves were reintroduced into central Idaho in 1995, and they’ve since multiplied. Idaho Fish and Game now estimates there are 1,020 wolves in Idaho.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.