Groups to Sue Idaho Over Wolf Kill – State Laws Violate Endangered Species Act 

Audio: A conversation with Earthjustice Associate Attorney Benjamin Scrimshaw

A gray wolf - photo: Gary Kramer/US Fish and Wildlife Service.

Gray wolves once roamed North America from Alaska to Mexico, coast to coast, but according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service(USFWS), federal eradication efforts, which  included bounties paid for dead wolves, brought wolf numbers near extinction by the beginning of the 20th Century. 

In 1973, the USFWS listed the northern Rocky Mountain wolf (Canis lupus) as an endangered species protected under the Endangered Species Act and designated the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem as one of three wolf recovery areas. 

After receiving federal protection, gray wolves saw rapid recovery in the western Great Lakes region, according to a USFWS history of wolf populations. Their numbers grew and spread through Wisconsin and Michigan. 

Wolves migrated into the U.S. from Canada. Between 1995 and 1997, 41 wolves from Canada and Montana were released into the Yellowstone Ecosystem. Wolf populations continued to grow and expand in the northern Rockies, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Washington, and Oregon. Scientists continue to use Yellowstone as a place to better understand the ecological role of wolves. Recently, a second, distinct pack of wolves has been identified in northern California.

On January 4, of 2021, USFWS announced that the Canis lupus had recovered and was no longer listed as Endangered under the Endangered Species Act. That means that management of wolf populations fell to states. 

It is estimated that roughly 1,500 gray wolves live in Idaho, and in May of this year, Idaho lawmakers passed S1211, a bill that enables the year-around trapping of wolves on private property. Wolves can be trapped, snared, poisoned, or shot, and an unlimited number of hunting tags will be issued. Governor Brad Little signed the bill into law, which took effect on July 1. 

As testament to the influence of the livestock industry in the Idaho Legislature, the law enables the use of private contractors to control wolf populations, and wolf control population counts are done in combination with sheep and goat health assessments.

On July 19 of this year, a coalition of ten environmental groups filed a 60-day notice of intent to sue the state over S1211. The groups sent the letter to Idaho Governor Brad Little, members of the Idaho Fish and Game Commission, and Idaho Wolf Depredation Control Board. They contend the expanded use of traps and snares to catch wolves also harms grizzly bears and lynx. Both are listed as Endangered and protected under the Endangered Species Act.

To learn more about the lawsuit, we spoke with Benjamin Scrimshaw, associate attorney with Earthjustice.

Proponents of the Idaho law say that fewer wolves will reduce livestock predation and increase the numbers of deer and elk.

“The Fish and Wildlife Service in 2020 found that there were 102 wolf depredation cases in Idaho in 2020, and there are what, some 2.7 million cattle and sheep in the state,” said Benjamin Scrimshaw. “So really the effects wolves have had on livestock in Idaho are minuscule compared to many many other issues, from cattle dying in childbirth, from respiratory diseases, bad weather. There are all sorts of non-predator causes that are killing livestock at much greater numbers than wolves.”

Music credits as reported to the Public Radio Exchange, in order of appearance:

Song: Weightless, Pt. 3
Artist: Marconi Union
Album: Weightless
Label: All Saints Records
Date: 2011
Duration: 51

Song: All Remains the Same (Kalumet Remix)
Artist: Agostino Maria Ticino
Album: Trip Hop Chilled Electronica
Label: Irma Records
Date: 2016
Duration: 46

Song: Gringatcho Demento
Artist: William Orbit
Album: Best of Strange Cargo
Label: I.R.S. Records
Date: 1996
Duration: 56

Song: Weightless
Artist: Marconi Union
Album: Weightless
Label: All Saints Records
Date: 2011
Duration: 1:10

Song: Weightless, Pt. 2
Artist: Marconi Union
Album: Weightless
Label: All Saints Records
Date: 2011
Duration: 55

Song: Weightless, Pt. 4
Artist: Marconi Union
Album: Weightless
Label: All Saints Records
Date: 2011
Duration: 57