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Idaho suspends plan for hired wolf hunter

BOISE — Idaho Fish and Game officials say they’re suspending a plan to use a hired hunter to kill wolves in the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness until at least November 2015.

Jeff Gould, wildlife bureau chief for the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, made the declaration in a document filed with the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last week.

A coalition of wildlife advocacy groups sued the state and federal officials in federal court earlier this year, asking a judge to stop a state-hired hunter from using the U.S. Forest Service’s backcountry airstrips to reach and kill wolves in the Frank Church River of No Return wilderness. A federal judge rejected their request for a temporary restraining order, but state officials pulled the hunter out of the region after he killed nine wolves.

The lawsuit is on appeal before the 9th Circuit.

“As we mark the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act this September, we are relieved that the Frank Church Wilderness will be managed as a wild place, rather than an elk farm, for at least the coming year,” Earthjustice attorney Timothy Preso said in a written statement. “Now we must make sure that wilderness values prevail for the long term.”

Earthjustice is representing Idaho wilderness advocate Ralph Maughan, Defenders of Wildlife, Western Watersheds Project, Wilderness Watch, and Center for Biological Diversity in the lawsuit.

In his declaration to the court, Gould said the Idaho Department of Fish and Game has decided it is in a better position to defend Idaho’s sovereign wildlife management authority by improving the Forest Services’ understanding of how the state applies wilderness considerations to its decisions, and how the state believes that reducing the wolf population will help mitigate the negative impact wolves have on other wildlife.

Gould said the wildlife department will gather information on the impact of wolves, the effects of wolf control activities and elk mortality over the next year.

Suzanne Stone with Defenders of Wildlife said the opposing groups had reached a yearlong truce in Idaho’s wolf reduction efforts in the Frank Church.

“Wolves belong here as they have made the ‘Frank’ truly wild again,” she said in a written statement. “Ensuring healthy wolf populations here is critical for the recovery of wolves throughout the entire northwestern region.”

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