Environmentalists trying to stop federal agency from killing wolves in Idaho
By ERIC BARKER of the Tribune 6 hrs ago 0
Environmental groups have filed a motion for summary judgment in their case that seeks to stop the federal Wildlife Services agency from killing wolves in Idaho.
According to the lawsuit, the small agency has killed dozens of wolves in the state’s Lolo zone in each of last six years at the behest of the Idaho Department of Fish and Game and its efforts to aid elk herds there. The agency also has acted in concert with the state to kill wolves that prey on livestock.
The Boise-based Advocates for the West argued that the federal agency – even when acting at the request of the state – must follow the National Environmental Policy Act. The 1970 law requires the federal government to study and publish the environmental consequences of its proposed actions and to consider viable alternatives
Advocates of the West Executive Director Laird Lucas said the agency has based its wolf control actions on a 2011 environmental assessment that he argues is outdated and falls short of essential details, such how many wolves would be killed, when and where the control might take place and what the ecological effects would be.
The lawsuit also argues the 2011 assessment is out of date because it relied on a population objective in a state wolf management plan that was changed even before the assessment was complete, and that a more lengthy and detailed environmental impact statement is needed to fully consider the effects of the agency’s wolf killing program.
The lawsuit asks federal district court judge Edward J. Lodge to require the agency to set aside the environmental assessment and require the agency either expand its study or to update it.
“We have this secretive agency trying to operate outside of the public eye,” Lucas said. “Many people in the public really care about wolves, and that is the point of (the National Environmental Policy Act) – to publicly disclose what you are doing.”
The lawsuit was filed in June by the Friends of the Clearwater, Western Watersheds Project, Center for Biological Diversity, WildEarth Guardians and Predator Defense.
The federal government has not yet responded to the request for summary judgement that was filed Friday. If the environmental groups were to prevail, it would make it much more difficult for the state to manage the size of wolf packs in remote areas like the Lolo Zone.
Last year, Wildlife Services employees in helicopters shot 20 wolves in the Lolo Zone. A similar number of wolves was killed there in the three previous years. Idaho’s predator management plan for the Lolo Zone, north of the Lochsa River, calls for a 70 to 80 percent reduction of wolf numbers. In 1989, the department estimated the area had about 16,000 elk. A 2010 survey estimated the herd had dropped to 2,100 animals. The state agency is counting wolves in the Lolo Zone again this winter.