Federal Agency to Study Predator-Killing Plans in Idaho
BOISE, Idaho (AP) — A federal agency says it will conduct an extensive environmental study on its decision to expand the killing of wolves and other predators in Idaho attacking livestock to also include predators attacking deer and elk.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture in a government notice says it anticipates taking public comments this month to prepare the environmental impact statement.
A U.S. District Court judge ordered the review last year after ruling the Agriculture Department's Wildlife Services violated environmental laws by not providing the justification to support its decision to expand killing mountain lions, coyotes, bears and other predators in Idaho.
Western Watersheds Project and other conservation groups sued in 2017, contending the agency needed the extensive study to better understand the ramifications of the expanded killing of predators.
The Agriculture Department said the new environmental impact statement will replace the agency's 2016 Idaho environmental assessment on killing coyotes, black bears, mountain lions and other predators that was the subject of the lawsuit.
The agency said it will also use the new environmental impact statement to replace its 2011 wolf environmental assessment that guides its wolf-killing decisions in Idaho, which is also under attack in federal courts in a separate lawsuit brought by environmental groups.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals late last month reinstated that lawsuit after overturning a U.S. District Court judge who dismissed the case on technical grounds involving standing.
"The problem is they've been killing wildlife in Idaho for many years without public disclosure of what they're doing or what the impacts are," said Laird Lucas, an attorney for Advocates for the West that is representing groups in both lawsuits. "If you're taking out apex predators or removing entire populations, that has impacts on the land."
The Agriculture Department has said that in the 2018 federal fiscal year, which runs from the beginning of October to the end of September, Wildlife Services killed 83 wolves in Idaho. Of those, 73 involved livestock attacks and 10 were an effort to boost elk numbers in northern Idaho.
Wildlife Services kills and removes predators that kill livestock in many states, especially in the U.S. West. In Idaho, the agency killed nearly 4,000 coyotes in 2016.
The public will have "the opportunity to submit written comments to the agency on management alternatives, environmental issues, and any other information they believe should be considered in the EIS," said agency spokeswoman Tanya Espinosa in an email to The Associated Press.
The federal court judge who ordered the scientific review denied a request from the environmental groups seeking an immediate halt to Wildlife Service's killing of predators in Idaho while the opposing sides discuss options, but said the environmental groups could file a new lawsuit if no agreement is reached.
"We'll probably need to file yet another lawsuit," said Lucas, noting Wildlife Services might not come out with the scientific review for up to five years.