Multiple Groups File Lawsuit Against Idaho Law That Could Kill 90 Percent of State's Wolves

A lawsuit was filed in Idaho on Monday to block a law signed in May by Republican Gov. Brad Little that over a dozen environmental groups say could lead to the killing of up to 90 percent of the state's 1,500 wolves through expansions to trapping and snaring regulations.

The law took effect July 1 and allows for more methods to kill wolves across the state including traps and snares, which the groups filing the lawsuit argue could also injure or kill federally protected lynx and grizzly bears in the state, according to The Associated Press.

"Traps and snares are indiscriminate and the dangers to non-target species are well known," said Benjamin Scrimshaw, associate attorney for Earthjustice's Northern Rockies office. "The failure to make any effort to protect threatened grizzly bears and lynx while pushing the slaughter of wolves violates the Endangered Species Act."

Supporters of the law said it would reduce the wolf population, and therefore reduce attacks on livestock and allow for a natural increase in the state's deer and elk populations.

The law allows for the government to hire private contractors to kill wolves, as well as the use of traps and snares on a single hunting tag, plus the elimination of restrictions like hunting hours.

It also allows for other equipment like night-vision goggles to be used once a hunter obtains a permit, the use of bait and hunting dogs and hunting from vehicles. It also allows for owners of private property to trap wolves on their land all year.

"In their zeal to reverse decades of effective, science-based conservation, Idaho politicians have not only endangered the long-term viability of Idaho's wolves, they have recklessly promoted snaring and trapping that kill and maim both lynx and grizzly bears," said Patrick Kelly, Idaho director with Western Watersheds Project.

For more reporting from The Associated Press, see below.

Idaho, Wolves, Hunting, Endangered
A wolf in Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, Nov. 7, 2017. More than a dozen environmental groups are asking a federal court to block Idaho's recently expanded wolf trapping and snaring regulations. Jacob W. Frank/National Park Service via AP File

The groups are also asking the court to prohibit wolf trapping and snaring where lynx and grizzly bears are found until the case is decided on its merits.

For lynx, the conditions could cover most of Idaho except for the southwestern portion of the state. For grizzly bears, the areas would include portions of northern, central and eastern Idaho. Wolves are found in roughly the northern two-thirds of the state.

The Idaho attorney general's office defends state agencies in lawsuits. Spokesman Scott Graf said the office had no comment on the lawsuit.

The law was backed by hunters and the state's powerful ranching sector but criticized by environmental groups.

Idaho wildlife officials announced in October the state would make available $200,000 to be divided into payments for hunters and trappers who kill wolves in the state through next summer.

"The (Endangered Species Act) not only prohibits a person from taking a listed species, but it also prohibits a third party from authorizing or allowing a person to conduct an activity that results in the take of a listed species" the lawsuit states.

State wildlife officials in late October said there had not been an increase in the number of wolves killed, but didn't immediately respond with more recent numbers on Monday. A new wolf population estimate is expected in January.

About 500 wolves were killed in Idaho in both 2019 and 2020 by hunters, trappers and wolf control measures carried out by state and federal authorities.

In a related matter, Montana this year also expanded wolf killing.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in September, at the request of environmental groups concerned about the expanded wolf killing in the two states, announced a yearlong review to see if wolves in the U.S. West should be relisted under the Endangered Species Act.

Idaho, Wolves, Hunting, Endangered, Grizzly Bears
A Grizzly bear named "399" walks with her four cubs along the main highway near Signal Mountain on June 15, 2020 outside Jackson, Wyoming. Over a dozen Idaho environmental groups filed a lawsuit Monday saying the state's expanded regulations on hunting wolves signed into law earlier this year could also lead to the harming of federally protected grizzly bear and lynx. George Frey/Getty Images