BOISE — A federal agency doesn’t need to do a new environmental study before being allowed to kill more wolves in Idaho, a federal court judge has ruled.
U.S. District Court Judge Edward Lodge on Jan. 4 ruled in favor of the USDA’s Wildlife Services of Idaho and against Western Watersheds Project and four other environmental groups.
Lodge said that even if Wildlife Services stopped killing wolves in Idaho, it wouldn’t matter because the Idaho Department of Fish and Game manages wolves in the state and has demonstrated it can kill wolves, hire third parties to kill wolves, or increase hunting and trapping for wolves. He said that meant the environmental groups lacked standing to bring the lawsuit.
“Plaintiffs have not shown that the relief they seek will redress their claimed injuries,” Lodge wrote.
Laird Lucas, an attorney at Advocates for the West representing the groups, said the ruling will be appealed.
“We believe the court’s holding that plaintiffs lacked standing, based on speculation that Idaho Department of Fish and Game could take over all of Wildlife Services’ wolf-killing activities in Idaho, is incorrect.”
Lodge didn’t rule on the main thrust of the environmental groups’ arguments, including one that contended Wildlife Services’ 2011 study that allowed it to kill wolves in the state is flawed because it relies on outdated information. The groups also say that the outdated information includes Idaho choosing to use a 2002 wolf management plan that requires 15 packs minimum in the state, which the groups contend is not enough for a viable population.
Todd Grimm, Idaho state director of the USDA’s Wildlife Services, said Lodge was right in that Idaho Fish and Game is capable of controlling wolves as well as the federal agency.
“We are pleased with the decision by the court, and we will continue working with our Idaho Fish and Game partners to manage wolf conflicts,” he said Jan. 5.
Grim said that his agency killed 56 wolves in Idaho in 2017, all due to attacks on livestock. He said the agency killed 70 wolves in Idaho in 2016 — 50 due to livestock attacks and 20 to relieve pressure on elk herds in northern Idaho.
The last intensive wolf count in Idaho was in 2015 when officials said the state had an estimated 786 wolves at the end of the year. That’s also the last year Idaho Fish and Game was required to do that type of count after wolves were removed from the Endangered Species List.
Roger Phillips, a spokesman for the agency, said biologists now get a general estimate of wolf populations using remote cameras, tracking wolf kills by hunters and trappers, and doing genetic studies. He said that genetic studies give an estimate of 53 wolf packs in the state, while cameras and harvest tallies put the estimate at 90 packs.
He said the agency estimates the wolf population in Idaho is still about the same as at the end of 2015 — between 750 and 800 wolves.
“We have seen no dramatic increase or decrease in the last five years, which leads us to believe that it’s a stable population,” he said.