April 23, 2019
BOISE, Idaho. – In a victory for a coalition of wildlife conservation groups, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals today overturned an Idaho court’s dismissal of their lawsuit challenging Wildlife Services’ wolf-killing in the state. The lawsuit alleges that the federal agency has failed to properly analyze or disclose the effects of its killing campaign against these iconic carnivores.
“With the new decision, we can return to the heart of the matter: whether or not Wildlife Services adequately reviewed the ecological consequences of killing scores of wolves each year in Idaho,” said Talasi Brooks, attorney with Western Watersheds Project. “This lawsuit is all about dispelling the myths and propaganda about the ‘big, bad wolf’ and getting federal agencies to acknowledge the overwhelming scientific evidence that killing wolves to reduce livestock losses or increase populations of hunted wildlife is cruel, pointless, and doesn’t work.”
Wildlife Services is a federal agency under the U.S. Department of Agriculture that kills native carnivores, notably including wolves, at the behest of the livestock industry. In 2017, Wildlife Services killed 1.3 million native animals nationwide.
“Wildlife Services’ barbaric 19th-century mismanagement of wildlife needs to catch up to 21st Century scientific knowledge,” said Collette Adkins, carnivore conservation director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Wildlife Services hasn’t considered the effects of its wolf killing campaign in Idaho since before wolves lost their federal protections, and since then, scientists have shown that killing wolves does nothing to prevent livestock losses.”
Some sportsmen’s groups have demonized wolves as a cause of lower populations of elk or deer, especially in the Lolo Zone in Idaho’s Clearwater Basin. Yet hunter kill numbers for both species are near record levels, statewide.
“The Clearwater Basin in Idaho offers some of the best large carnivore habitat in the Lower 48. We are happy that the District Court will now look at the issue on its merits. Science shows that wolves are self-regulating and don’t need to be gunned down,” said Gary Macfarlane, Ecosystem Defense Director of Friends of the Clearwater.
The lawsuit calls for new analysis that would consider the impacts of the federal killing program in the context of the state’s management of Idaho’s wolf population. The Idaho Department of Fish and Game no longer relies on radio collar data to monitor wolf populations, instead basing guesses on hair snag surveys and camera traps. It has nevertheless extended wolf hunting and trapping seasons. And it has given taxpayer money to the so-called “Foundation 4 Wildlife Management” to fund bounties on wolves in certain parts of Idaho.
“All of these changes paint a macabre backdrop for Wildlife Services’ wolf-killing, which only exacerbates the effects of the pressures already levied against wolves in Idaho,” said Brooks Fahy, Executive Director of Predator Defense.
“Efforts to conserve wolves have never been more important,” said Lindsay Larris, Wildlife Program Director at WildEarth Guardians. “With the changes in wolf management that have occurred since Wildlife Services last considered its activities’ impacts, we have to ask ourselves, did we recover wolves just to wipe them out again?”
Western Watersheds Project and Advocates for the West represented the groups in the litigation.