Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Idaho hunters target gray #wolves in controversial predator derby

Environmentalists want the event stopped but locals dismiss them as ‘a bunch of urbanites who don’t understand our lives’
A gray wolf in Alaska.
A gray wolf in Alaska. Photograph: Alamy
Coyotes, weasels, skunks, jackrabbits, raccoons and European starlings – early next year, hunters as young as 10 will join a competitive hunt in Salmon, Idaho, for a chance to kill from that wild menu.
The competition, called the ‘predator derby’, would be unremarkable if it weren’t for the breadth of targets, including the most controversial prey of all: the gray wolf.

Warning that wolves could die like “vermin,” environmentalists have dubbed the event a “killfest”, setting up a showdown with local landowners and the federal Bureau of Land Management, which is hosting the event. The agency has issued a permit allowing up to 500 hunters to compete on 3m acres of land for three days, beginning in January 2015.

The permit allows a three-day competition annually for the next five years. Salmon is a town of just more than 3,000 residents squeezed between two tracts of the Rocky mountains.

Several groups, such as Defenders of Wildlife and Wildearth Guardians, want the derby stopped. The groups filed two nearly identical lawsuits seeking injunctions from federal judges.

Members of the hunting and ranching community, meanwhile, have welcomed the derby, taking the view that the wolves cause more harm than good. They say the animals compete with humans for game animals like elk and damage livestock, particularly within Idaho’s 240,000-head sheep industry.
The lawsuits highlights a long-running dispute in western states between ranchers and environmental groups – one that has increasingly played out in court.

“The whole issue became very polarized,” said Mike Keckler, a spokesperson for the Idaho department of fish and game. Keckler said many hunters and ranchers see the environmental groups’ use of courts to protect the wolves as disingenuous.

Steve Alder, executive director of Idaho for Wildlife, the group that organized the derby, said anyone who wants the derby stopped has a “lack of empathy.”

“[They are] a bunch of urbanites who don’t have any clue, don’t have the knowledge and wisdom and experience that we do,” said Alder. “They don’t understand our lives, they don‘t understand where meat comes from.”

Gray wolves have another powerful enemy in the Idaho governor’s mansion. Governor CF “Butch” Otter has described the species as being “foisted upon” the state by the federal government. Otter created a wolf control board and stopped fish and wildlife officials from arresting wolf poachers.
The conflict came to a head in 2011, when Congress removed Rocky mountain gray wolves from the endangered species list. The gray wolf was the first species to be removed by congressional action, in a measure stuffed into a budget bill.

Gray wolves in the US were practically extinct before a reintroduction program in 1995. The last wolf originally from the area was killed in Yellowstone in 1926, according to outdoor writer Hal Herring. The wolves were hunted as a nuisance animal in the early part of the century.

At the time of reintroduction, the wolf was protected by the federal government. Now, a population of about 1,600 live in the northern Rockies. As many as 11,200 live in Alaska.

Many in the west believed the wolves would only be protected until 300 repopulated, a goal quickly reached. Some hunters, Alder included, felt slighted when the wolf remained protected for years afterward, partly because of suits brought by environmental groups. In one such incident in 2005, the US Fish and Wildlife Service looked to allow Idaho more flexibility in managing its wolf population, but the agency was quickly sued by environmental groups.

The groups have lobbied hard against the derby as well. The BLS received more than 56,000 comments after opening the derby plan to the public, only 10 of which were in support of the competition.
A wolf pack is pictured bedded down in the snow in Yellowstone National Park in this March 2007 photograph obtained on May 4, 2011.
A wolf pack is pictured bedded down in the snow in Yellowstone National Park in this March 2007 photograph obtained on May 4, 2011. Photograph: HO/Reuters
“They’re treated like grass that needs to be mowed down,” said Suzanne Stone. She’s been working with wolves for more than 30 years and is the Idaho spokesperson for Defenders of Wildlife. “They just call me the wolf lady around here.”

“This has gone so far above and beyond what most people consider ethical, even hunters,” said Stone.
Alder says he doesn’t expect the derby will even encounter any wolves. The animals travel large distances and tend to live in heavily wooded, rural areas, making them difficult to hunt. The state of Idaho sells more than 30,000 wolf hunting permits each year, but just more than 300 wolves are killed each year, Keckler said.

“There are very limited numbers of people who go out looking specifically for wolves,” Keckler said. “A lot of folks are concerned about the hunting of big predators like that, but we also have a very health mountain lion population in Idaho. We have a very health black bear population and they have been classified as big game just like wolves for many many years.”

About 3,000 mountain lions, 20,000 black bears, 50,000 coyotes live in Idaho’s wilderness. Around 110,000 elk and 250,000 deer live in the state.

Gray wolves are known to live in five states, including Oregon, Washington, Wyoming, Montana and Idaho. The population in Wyoming was restored to the endangered species list, and the Mexican and Red wolves remain under federal protection. Whether the courts will stop the hunting derby remains unclear.