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Eye On Boise

Environmental groups reach deal on Idaho wolf derby lawsuit

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit by environmental groups involving a wolf- and coyote-shooting contest in Idaho as part of a settlement agreement that requires federal officials to notify the groups if another contest is planned.

The agreement on Wednesday follows several years of court skirmishes between the groups and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management involving Idaho for Wildlife's Predator Hunting Contest.

"This cruel, unethical and ecologically damaging contest should not occur on any lands, but particularly not on public lands belonging to all of us," said Andrea Santarsiere, senior attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity.

Idaho for Wildlife initially received a permit for the contest from BLM in mid-November 2014, but the federal agency rescinded that decision less than two weeks later following a lawsuit by the environmental groups contending the approval violated environmental laws.

In the settlement on Wednesday, the BLM agrees that it rescinded the permit as well as various decisions in an environmental process leading up to the permit. The agreement also requires the BLM to notify the groups during the next three years if the agency receives a permit application at its Idaho Falls district office for another predator hunting contest. The BLM must also pay $20,000 in court costs.

Sarah Wheeler, a BLM spokeswoman, didn't return a call from The Associated Press on Thursday.

Idaho for Wildlife held the Predator Hunting Contest on private land and U.S. Forest Service land, but not BLM land, in December 2013 and January 2015 on land outside Salmon, Idaho. The environmental groups say the remote and rugged area in east-central Idaho is considered key for a sustainable wolf population in the state.

Participants in the two predator contests reported killing some coyotes but no wolves. The group, citing lack of wolf-hunting success, didn't hold the contest the last two winters. But Steve Alder, the group's executive director, said on Thursday the group would look at possibly holding one in January 2018 following Wednesday's court action.

"I think we'll have to consider having some more contests down the road," he said, noting the group has no definite plans. "We don't know that we'll call it a wolf hunt or not because of the crazy wolf nuts. It brings them out in hordes."

He also noted the "dismal results" the contest has produced for wolf hunters and said future contests, if held, might instead focus on coyotes and jackrabbits.

On a related front, a decision on a separate lawsuit environmental groups have against the U.S. Forest Service involving Idaho for Wildlife's predator contest is pending.

The predator hunts in late 2013 and early 2015 were allowed on public Forest Service land after a federal judge said organizers didn't need to get a special permit from that agency.

Environmental groups are challenging that ruling. Arguments were made in federal court on Jan. 11, but the court hasn't yet announced a decision.

Besides the Center for Biological Diversity, other environmental groups participating in the BLM lawsuit were Cascadia Wildlands, Kootenai Environmental Alliance, Project Coyote, Western Watersheds Project and WildEarth Guardians.

Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Z. Russell joined The Spokesman-Review in 1991. She currently is a reporter in the Boise Bureau covering Idaho state government and politics, and other news from Idaho's state capital.

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