Ruling could open door for shooting derbies in Idaho

BOISE, Idaho — Organizers of a wolf- and coyote-shooting contest in east-central Idaho say they’re looking at other parts of the state for similar contests on U.S. Forest Service land following a federal court ruling.

“Having this lawsuit out of the way and having this legal precedent, we will probably consider it a lot greater now,” said Steve Alder, Idaho for Wildlife’s executive director.

U.S. District Court Judge Ronald Bush, in a 20-page ruling late last month, said Idaho for Wildlife didn’t need a permit from the U.S. Forest Service to hold the contest.

He ruled that Idaho for Wildlife’s Predator Hunting Contest is not a commercial event because it doesn’t charge participation fees and under Forest Service regulations doesn’t need a special use permit.

Because a permit isn’t needed, Bush said, the Forest Service isn’t violating environmental laws or its own policies in allowing the event as environmental groups contended in a lawsuit.

Bush also ruled that Idaho for Wildlife didn’t need a permit under a Forest Service requirement for non-commercial use by large groups because group gatherings didn’t occur in the forest, but in the town of Salmon.

The lawsuit involved the Salmon-Challis National Forest. Alder said the group is looking at possible derbies in other national forests in northern Idaho, noting possible towns include Sandpoint, Bonners Ferry and Orofino. He said no specific plans have been made.

Amy Baumer, spokeswoman for the Salmon-Challis National Forest, didn’t return a call from The Associated Press.

Andrea Santarsiere, senior attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity, said environmental groups plan to discuss a possible appeal of the ruling.

“We were disappointed that Judge Bush looked at (the derby) as any other day of hunting in the forest,” she said. “We think it’s dramatically different.”

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management has also been caught up in the lawsuit. Idaho for Wildlife initially received a permit for the contest from BLM in mid-November 2014, but the federal agency rescinded that decision less than two weeks later following a lawsuit by the environmental groups contending the approval violated environmental laws.

That portion of the lawsuit was resolved in February with a settlement agreement requiring the BLM to notify the groups during the next three years if the agency receives a permit application at its Idaho Falls district office for another predator hunting contest.

Idaho for Wildlife held the Predator Hunting Contest on private property and U.S. Forest Service land, but not BLM land, in December 2013 and January 2015 on land outside Salmon, Idaho. The environmental groups say the remote and rugged area in east-central Idaho is considered key for a sustainable wolf population in the state.

Participants in the two predator contests reported killing some coyotes but no wolves. The group, citing lack of wolf-hunting success, didn’t hold the contest the last two winters.

“I know how difficult it is to wolf hunt,” Alder said. “You don’t see them. It’s really a challenge.”

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