by Jacob Jones
Regional environmental groups filed for a restraining order in federal court Monday to block a controversial coyote- and wolf-hunting derby in Central Idaho this weekend, calling it a "Killing Contest" that should require additional permits under U.S. Forest Service guidelines.
The upcoming derby, organized by the sportsman group Idaho for Wildlife, offers $2,000 in cash and other prizes for the largest wolf killed and the most coyotes taken by two-person teams from Dec. 28-29. Organizers expected as many as 300 hunters to participate.
Conservation groups, led by WildEarth Guardians in Missoula, filed a complaint in U.S. District Court in Idaho, seeking an injunction to halt the scheduled two-day derby, arguing wildlife officials had disregarded their own restrictions on special events and that the competitive derby could endanger people recreating in Idaho over the holidays.
"USFS did not even consider what the direct, indirect, and cumulative impacts of the Killing Contest might be to the human and natural environment on public lands," the group's complaint argues.
Wolf hunting has been an extremely contentious issue in Idaho with outspoken environmentalists calling for extended protections while hunters resent the impact of wolves on big game populations. Wildlife officials have been caught in the middle of the bitter debate, struggling to balance protections with population management.
Officials expected few wolves to be killed in any potential derby because the animals have proven notoriously difficult to track and kill.
WildEarth Guardians and the other plaintiffs argue in their complaint that the Forest Service had not followed their rules on requiring special event permits for the upcoming derby. They cite a rule mandating a permit for any commercial activity where an "entry or participation fee" is charged. The derby is $20 per person.
"Although the sponsors estimate the contest will draw 300 participants to federal public lands to shoot as many coyotes and wolves as possible over the course of two days, in contravention of the plain language of its own regulations and without following its special use procedures, USFS decided no special use authorization was required," the complaint states.
Conservationists also expressed serious safety concerns about pitting dozens of hunters against each other in a relatively concentrated area at a time of year when families may be looking to enjoy the outdoors. They argued the derby would result in more gunfire in a smaller area where families, children and pets could be at risk.
"This Killing Contest occurs in the middle of the holidays on the weekend between Christmas and New Years," the complaint states. "During this time, many families have time away from work, can and plan to recreate on public lands, and head out to test out new skis, snowshoes, sleds, snowsuits, snowmobiles and other recreation equipment."
Here's an Associated Press story on the derby with reaction from wildlife officials. Read the entire federal complaint here:Wolf Derby Complaint.pdf