A group that overcame a court challenge last winter to hold a wolf- and coyote-shooting derby is seeking a permit from the U.S. Bureau of Land Management to roughly double the area for a second event this winter. "There's no excuse for not allowing us to hunt," said Steve Alder of Idaho for Wildlife. "It's on federal land. If we didn't have a derby, people are allowed to hunt it anyway."
The tentative dates for the derby in the east-central part of the state near Salmon are Jan. 2-3, he said.
The BLM said a permit is required because a derby is considered a competitive event with prizes. Last year, the hunting group offered two separate, $1,000 prizes — one for the hunter who killed the biggest wolf, the other for the hunter who bagged the most coyotes. Alder said prizes haven't been determined for this winter's event that's expected to draw more than 300 people, about 100 to 150 of them hunters.
The BLM plans to make public an environmental analysis Thursday and take public comments for 15 days. The agency said about 1,500 square miles are involved. "We are anticipating that lots of people have comments," BLM spokeswoman Sarah Wheeler said. "It's very polarizing. What people have a hard time understanding is that the BLM doesn't regulate hunting. We're looking at the impacts it's going to have on public lands." Alder said the impacts would be "minimal."
Sarah McMillan of WildEarth Guardians disagreed, and said her group and others will try to stop the derby through comments, or legal challenges should BLM officials approve the permit. "We don't believe these kinds of activities are appropriate on our public lands," she said. "We're hopeful that the BLM won't approve the killing contest."
Linda Price, a BLM spokeswoman in Salmon, said the agency expects to make a decision by Nov. 5.
McMillan said that environmental groups could respond quickly with legal action should the BLM approve the permit. "We are able to mobilize quickly, and we would because we would want to try to stop it from happening again this year," she said.
Environmental groups lost in federal court last year when a judge ruled the hunting group didn't need a permit from the U.S. Forest Service because derby promoters were encouraging use of the forest for a lawful activity.
The Dec. 28-29, 2013, event drew 230 people, about 100 of them hunters, who killed 21 coyotes but no wolves. McMillan noted the date was particularly galling for environmental groups because Dec. 28 that year marked the 40th anniversary of the Endangered Species Act, which once protected wolves in Idaho.
Alder said he's already contacted the U.S. Forest Service and been told the derby could be held without a permit from that federal agency. Having permission from both federal agencies, he said, would make the logistics easier of determining where participants could hunt.
He said the main targets are coyotes, which are classified by the Idaho Department of Fish and Game as a predatory wildlife and can be hunted year round with no limit.
Wolves are classified as big game and require a hunter have a special tag. The state has set harvest limits in some management zones, meaning the season ends when the limit is reached. Federal managers could take over management of Idaho wolves if the state falls below 15 documented breeding pairs. "It's just insane to think we'll have chance to take a wolf," Alder said. "It would be wonderful for someone to take a wolf, but I don't expect it."