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Critics have taken fight over Idaho wolf laws to courts. How many lawsuits are there?

Researchers spotted this wolf pup while sampling a rendezvous site in Idaho.  (Courtesy of Spencer Rettle)
Researchers spotted this wolf pup while sampling a rendezvous site in Idaho. (Courtesy of Spencer Rettle)
By Nicole Blanchard The Idaho Statesman

BOISE – Months after Idaho lawmakers enacted a controversial law expanding wolf hunting and trapping, pushback from critics has continued, with a cadre of opponents again taking their complaints to the court system.

Groups including the Humane Society of the United States, Earthjustice and Idaho-based International Wildlife Coexistence Network have threatened legal action over this spring’s wolf legislation for months. The new law eliminated Idaho’s 15-per-year wolf hunting and trapping limit and expanded the trapping season to run year-round on private land, among other expansions.

Last week, opponents filed a lawsuit against Gov. Brad Little, Idaho Department of Fish and Game director Ed Schriever and members of the Idaho Fish and Game Commission. Despite the ongoing opposition to Idaho’s wolf laws, this is the first lawsuit filed against Idaho officials.

The litigation focuses on the year-round trapping aspect of bill, arguing that grizzly bears and Canada lynx – both of which are protected under the Endangered Species Act – are at risk of injury or death due to expanded trapping.

Opponents’ other legal actions have triggered federal reviews of wolf protections. Here’s what Idaho is facing and what could happen next.

Lawsuit filed this month

The coalition of groups that filed suit against Idaho officials on Dec. 6 first warned of its plans in July with a 60-day Notice of Intent. The groups served a similar notice to Montana officials over the state’s trapping law. Patrick Kelly, spokesperson for the Western Watersheds Project – one of the 13 organizations in the suit filed last week – said the group waited longer than 60 days to see how Idaho and Montana officials would respond.

In response, Montana’s Fish, Wildlife and Parks commission adjusted how it would implement its wolf trapping in lynx and grizzly habitats. Idaho officials did not respond to the notice.

The December lawsuit asks the Idaho district court to stop wolf trapping in habitats shared by grizzly bear and lynx until Idaho can ensure trapping and snaring won’t violate the Endangered Species Act.

Ben Scrimshaw, an attorney for Earthjustice, said Idaho officials could find a way to ensure grizzlies and lynx won’t be caught or seek a permit from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for any protected animals that are accidentally caught in traps intended for wolves.

According to the complaint, two grizzlies were killed in 2020 by wolf snares set in Idaho’s panhandle, while five lynx have been trapped since the start of the 2011-12 trapping season. Scrimshaw said the lawsuit won’t alter Idaho’s expanded wolf trapping laws, only impact how they can be implemented.

The Idaho Attorney General’s office will represent the defendants.

Court petitions could still affect laws

Expanded wolf hunting and trapping laws in Idaho and Montana prompted other legal actions that could affect Idaho, but those actions aren’t lawsuits.

In June, many of the same groups involved in the Idaho lawsuit filed a petition with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Forest Service that asked the agencies to restrict Idaho from implementing its new hunting and trapping rules in federal wilderness areas. The groups argued that increased hunting and trapping “will degrade wilderness character.”

Kelly said there has been no action from the Forest Service on the petition.

The groups also filed a petition in June for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to relist gray wolves as a protected species under the Endangered Species Act. The species was removed from Endangered Species Act protections in Idaho and placed under state management in 2011, and wolves were removed from the list entirely in November 2020.

Kelly said the petition to relist wolves was also a direct result of Idaho and Montana’s new laws.

In September, the Department of Interior announced it would review the status of wolves to determine if they should be relisted as a protected species.

The department is expected to issue a review of its findings next September.

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