Judge weighs wolf decision as Idaho hunters head out
Wildlife officials prepare for possible injunction
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 half an 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 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 were 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 from both sides Monday, then said 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.”
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 nonbinding 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.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.