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Effort to halt wolf kill in Idaho rejected by judge

This undated image provided by Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks shows a wolf in Montana. (Associated Press)
This undated image provided by Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks shows a wolf in Montana. (Associated Press)

BOISE – A federal judge has rejected a request by conservation groups to stop Idaho from killing wolves from two packs in central Idaho as part of the state’s efforts to bolster elk numbers in the area.

U.S. District Judge Edward Lodge on Friday denied the temporary restraining order sought by the groups who contend the large-scale removal of wolves contravenes the 1964 Wilderness Act and other federal acts.

Tim Preso, an attorney for Earthjustice representing the groups, said an appeal was filed late Friday to begin the process of having the case heard by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

“We’re hoping with a fresh set of eyes to look at the case we’ll have an opportunity to do something to protect the wilderness values in the area before all the wolves are killed,” Preso said Saturday.

Idaho wildlife officials hired a hunter late last year to begin killing two packs in the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness. Officials recently said nine wolves have been killed so far from the Golden Creek and Monumental Creek wolf packs. It’s unclear how many wolves are in the two packs.

Defenders of Wildlife, Western Watersheds Project and Wilderness Watch filed the lawsuit Jan. 6 asking the judge to stop the plan immediately to give the case time to work through the courts. The environmental groups are joined by Ralph Maughan, a former Idaho State University professor, conservationist and longtime wolf recovery advocate from Pocatello.

The groups say the Forest Service’s decision to allow the state-hired hunter to use the Forest Service’s backcountry airstrips and cabin demonstrates that the federal agency has approved of the state plan. The hunter, Gus Thoreson of Salmon, set out in mid-December. He had to fly into two backcountry airstrips before heading out on horseback with a team of three mules to reach the remote Forest Service ranger cabin.

Federal officials and the Idaho Department of Fish and Game are named as defendants in the case. The state agency didn’t return a call from the Associated Press on Saturday.

Last year state game managers estimated Idaho’s wolf population at 683, an 11 percent drop from 2012. The highest total was in 2009, when it estimated 859 wolves were in the state.