By KEITH RIDLER | Associated Press
BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Conservation groups have filed a notice with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service of their intent to file a lawsuit seeking to force the agency to extend a monitoring program for wolves in Idaho and Montana.
The notice sent by the Center for Biological Diversity and four other organizations contends the five-year monitoring that’s required following a species’ removal from Endangered Species Act protections needs to be extended in May for another five years.
The groups said that an extension is required if new threats to the population appear. The groups said threats to wolves in Idaho and Montana have increased significantly as both states revised policies to aggressively reduce wolf numbers through sport hunting and killing wolves in hard-to-reach areas.
“Wolves in the northern Rockies need federal oversight now more than ever,” Andrea Santarsiere, a staff attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement.
Idaho officials in February announced that 20 wolves had been killed in the Clearwater Region in northern Idaho to bolster elk populations in the area. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services used a helicopter to shoot and kill the animals.
“Wolves have been delisted for five years and Idaho has demonstrated it can responsibly manage wolves while at the same time reducing conflicts,” said Mike Keckler, spokesman for the Idaho Department of Fish and Game.
He said that hunters and trappers had killed 213 wolves since the wolf harvest season started last August. It runs through the end of March.
Ron Aasheim, spokesman for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, defended Montana’s wolf management record.
“We would suggest that the proof is on the landscape,” he said. “In Montana, we’ve been committed to maintaining a recovered wolf population. We’re way way above recovery goals.”
Wildlife officials in the respective states say that at the end of 2014, the most recent information available, Idaho had 770 wolves and Montana 554 wolves.
The notice of the intent to sue followed a petition the groups sent to Fish and Wildlife in January. The groups said the agency didn’t provide a substantive response, leading to the potential lawsuit.
Fish and Wildlife spokesman Leith Edgar said Wednesday the agency doesn’t comment on pending litigation.
In response to the petition in January, Mike Jimenez, Fish and Wildlife’s wolf management coordinator for Northern Rockies, said the agency recognized the states wanted to manage wolves at a lower level than they were when delisted. He said the service was OK with that as long as the population stayed above recovery goals.
Other groups taking part in the legal action are Western Watersheds Project, Friends of the Clearwater, Cascadia Wildlands and WildWest Institute.
“The aerial gunning of wolves in the Clearwater Basin at the behest of Idaho Fish and Game demonstrates the necessity of continued monitoring by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service,” said Gary Macfarlane of Friends of the Clearwater.