Wolf hunting can continue in Idaho, a federal judge ruled Wednesday, but he hinted that the bigger court case behind the request may land the wolf back on the endangered species list.
The judge’s ruling came as Idaho Fish and Game officials cited an Eagle, Idaho, man for poaching a female wolf pup from a public road east of Cascade, in west-central Idaho, on Sunday. The hunter falsely claimed to have shot the animal in an open wolf-hunting zone. He could face thousands of dollars in fines and jail time.
“That’s not hunting,” said Jon Heggen, chief of law enforcement for Idaho Fish and Game. “It’s wrong, is what it is.”
The wolf pup was six to eight months old.
Idaho is allowing 220 wolves to be hunted, and Montana 75. That’s not enough to hurt a wolf population that now numbers well over 1,000 in the two states, U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy ruled.
Evidence submitted in court showed “insufficient proof of irreparable harm to the wolf population, as opposed to individual wolves,” Molloy wrote.
But while saying the wolf population could withstand a year or two of hunting at the designated levels, the judge suggested the 13 conservation groups that sued over the delisting of the wolf in Idaho and Montana could win their overall case. The groups contend that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service violated the Endangered Species Act by removing Idaho and Montana wolves from the endangered list, but not those in Wyoming, which lacks a federally approved wolf management plan.
That decision “distinguished a natural population of wolves based on a political line, not the best available science,” Molloy wrote.
Idaho officials praised the ruling allowing the wolf hunt to continue and pledged to manage the state’s wolf population responsibly.
“We have a plan in place for managing wolves based on the best science available, and we intend to keep our promises outlined in that plan,” said Idaho Gov. Butch Otter.
Suzanne Asha Stone, Northern Rockies representative for Defenders of Wildlife, said the group was disappointed the injunction wasn’t granted but hopeful about the overall outcome.
“We’re encouraged that our ultimate goal of restoring a healthy wolf population to the region and making sure that it remains so after delisting is still very much a viable goal,” she said.
Stone said she hopes all the stakeholders in the region’s wolf debate can find compromise.
“I think that’s been the one missed opportunity that has just really plagued this issue over the long term,” she said. “The conflicts have been so polarized, based on mostly misinformation, emotion and politics rather than on science and true negotiations on resolving these issues. We have another opportunity to try that again.”