Federal officials in Idaho are taking public comment on a new plan that would let them kill wolves and other predators.
This new plan is being drafted after a federal judge ruled last year that Wildlife Services broke the law by not justifying an expansion of killing coyotes, mountain lions and other predators.
Wildlife Services, which is part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, announced its intention to write the new plan Monday.
The group helps state agencies, like Idaho Fish and Game, to manage predators.
That includes controversial missions in rugged parts of North Idaho that took out entire packs of wolves from helicopters in an effort to help boost elk numbers.
They also help cull predators that sometimes prey on livestock.
Kirk Gustad, with Wildlife Services in Idaho, tells the Associated Press, "We're going into this with the intent of taking a fresh look at all the different issues, and that's what we hope to get from the public."
Western Watersheds Project and other conservation groups sued in 2017, contending the agency needed the extensive study to better understand the ramifications.
The Agriculture Department said the environmental impact statement will replace a 2016 assessment 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 the subject of a separate federal lawsuit.
"This is a welcome step forward," said Laird Lucas, an attorney for Advocates for the West, which is representing groups in both lawsuits. But he said there are concerns the study will "truly look at the science and the important role that predators play."
Another lawsuit filed by an eastern Idaho family last year involves the use of a spring-loaded predator killing trap called an M-44. The family in a lawsuit said that such a device in 2017 injured their then 14-year-old son and killed the boy's dog when they triggered the trap on federal public land. The teen still has headaches from poison emitted by the trap, the lawsuit said.
The devices are embedded in the ground and look like lawn sprinklers but spray cyanide when they are set off. They are meant to protect livestock but sometimes kill pets and injure people.
The Agriculture Department in the notice on Monday said it does not currently use M-44s in Idaho, but the environmental review will look at that option. Gustad said the current ban includes both public and private land.
In Idaho, the Agriculture Department said workers killed nearly 3,000 coyotes in 2018 along with 84 wolves, eight mountain lions, 14 black bears and 44 badgers.
Gustad said it could take from one to three years for a draft environmental impact statement to be prepared, which would be followed by a public comment period.
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