Faced with a legal challenge by conservationists and an imminent hearing before a federal appeals court, the Idaho Department of Fish and Game (“IDFG”) has abandoned its plan to resume a professional wolf-killing program in the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness during the coming winter.
In a sworn statement submitted to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit on July 24, IDFG Wildlife Bureau Chief Jeff Gould stated that IDFG “will not conduct any agency control actions for wolves within the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness before Nov. 1, 2015.” IDFG had previously advised the court that the program could resume as early as Dec. 1.
Gould’s statement also noted “wolf reintroduction had negative effects greater than the federal government anticipated to area elk herds, whose value to the Frank Church Wilderness was a significant factor in IDFG’s and others’ support for its wilderness designation.”
A professional hunter-trapper hired by IDFG killed nine wolves in the Frank Church Wilderness last winter and state officials in February announced plans to kill 60 percent of the wolves in the Middle Fork section of the wilderness over a period of several years in an effort to boost wilderness elk populations for the benefit of commercial outfitters and recreational hunters.
“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.
Earthjustice is representing Ralph Maughan along with four conservation groups—Defenders of Wildlife, Western Watersheds Project, Wilderness Watch, and the Center for Biological Diversity—in the lawsuit. These groups argue that the U.S. Forest Service, which is charged by Congress with managing and protecting the Frank Church Wilderness, violated the Wilderness Act and other laws by allowing and assisting the state wolf-killing program in the largest forest wilderness in the lower-48 states.
In a separate sworn statement filed with the Ninth Circuit on July 24, the Forest Service committed to providing the conservationists with notice by Aug. 5, 2015, of any plans by IDFG to resume professional wolf-killing in the Frank Church Wilderness during the 2015-16 winter, as well as “a final determination by the Forest Service as to whether it concurs with or objects to such plans.”
The state aims to reduce its total wolf population to 150; plans call for hunting, trapping, and state control actions including aerial gunning.