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Environmental groups push for aerial wolf hunting ban on Idaho's national forests

A gray wolf hops through a snow-patched woods.
Doug Pizac
FILE - In this Jan. 14, 1995, file photo, a wolf leaps across a road into the wilds of Central Idaho. Idaho Gov. Brad Little has signed into law a measure that could lead to the killing of 90% of the state's 1,500 wolves. The Republican governor signed the bill on Thursday, May 6, 2021, that had passed the Senate and House with enough votes to overcome a veto. (AP Photo/Douglas Pizac, File)

Three environmental groups are urging the U.S. Forest Service to prohibit private contracts for shooting wolves and other predators from helicopters over national forest lands in Idaho.

“National forests should be a refuge for wildlife, not a slaughter zone,” said Andrea Zaccardi with the Center for Biological Diversity.

On Tuesday, Zaccardi's organization, along with the International Wildlife Coexistence Network and Western Watersheds, filed a petition requesting the Forest Service to take action and warned of a potential federal lawsuit if there's no timely response.

A representative for the Forest Service did not return a request for comment Tuesday.

The petition is in response to the Idaho Wolf Depredation Control Board’s recent approval of five private agreements, totaling about $140,000.

The agreements reimburse ranchers for killing wolves to protect their livestock, including in game management units that overlap with several national forests, such as the Boise National Forest, the Sawtooth National Forest and the Caribou-Targhee National Forest. Three of the projects specifically mention "aerial control work."

The Idaho State Department of Agriculture said the board targeted the agreements to areas with chronic livestock depredations. However, several of the projects include killing wolves in units that haven't had chronic livestock depredations in recent years, according to Idaho Department of Fish and Game criteria.

“They might state that it's predator control for a legitimate purpose, but, really, there isn't any purpose that they've stated that matches the facts on the landscape,” Zaccardi said.

Ranchers’ applications highlight wolves as a persistent threat to their operations, although some note a lack of recent wolf attacks on their animals. Overall, wolf depredations on livestock continue to decline. In the past year, USDA’s Wildlife Services confirmed 23 cows and calves and 62 sheep killed by wolves in Idaho.

The environmental groups argue in their petition that there is insufficient evidence of wolves significantly impacting livestock operations or elk populations in Idaho. Therefore, they claim aerial gunning authorized by the Control Board "would be functionally equivalent to illegal recreational hunting from aircraft" under the Federal Airborne Hunting Act.

There is a carve out in the act for permitted control actions, but it bars states from issuing permits for aerial “sport hunting.”

Additionally, the groups said they were concerned that aerial shooting of wolves could endanger public land recreators.

Find reporter Rachel Cohen on Twitter @racheld_cohen

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As the south-central Idaho reporter, I cover the Magic and Wood River valleys. I also enjoy writing about issues related to health and the environment.

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