Groups sue to halt the killing of wolves

An Idaho preservationist says he’s just trying to protect the land he helped save years ago.

rbarker@idahostatesman.comJanuary 8, 2014 

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Gus Thoreson, a hunter hired by the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, rides into Cabin Creek from Flying B Ranch on the Middle Fork of the Salmon River in December 2013.

PROVIDED BY ISAAC BABCOCK / HOBBIT HILL FILMS

Ralph Maughan joined six other conservationists in 1974 in the kitchen of Salmon doctor Walt Blackadar’s home to map out what would become the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness.

The retired Idaho State University professor spent countless hours in Washington, D.C., fighting to preserve the area where he has hiked extensively.

And now he’s going to court with wildlife advocates to protect what he says are the wilderness values of the 2.4 million-acre area.

Maughan and three conservation groups — Defenders of Wildlife, Western Watersheds Project and Wilderness Watch — are seeking to halt the extermination of two of six wolf packs in the Middle Fork of the Salmon River drainage by a hunter-trapper hired by the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, which is trying to boost elk herds.

Tim Preso, an attorney with Earthjustice in Bozeman, Mont., filed suit Monday in federal court. The suit claims that the Forest Service allowed Fish and Game to carry out the wolf killing without meeting the requirements of the Wilderness Act of 1964 and the National Environmental Policy Act.

On Tuesday, Preso asked U.S. District Judge Edward Lodge for an immediate injunction to stop the hunter-trapper from killing any wolves.

“A wilderness is supposed to be a wild place governed by natural conditions, not an elk farm,” said Preso.

Maughan says the lawsuit is not about wolves; it’s about protecting the wilderness values enshrined in the Wilderness Act. Maughan has written several guide books about the area with his wife, Jackie Johnson Maughan, and has long ties to that part of the state.

Jackie Maughan’s father, Bill “Blue Moose” Johnson, was an outfitter in the area and died there in 1977. His ashes were spread there — something Maughan said he hopes to have done as well.

“This is really an emotional thing for me,” Ralph Maughan said.

Idaho Fish and Game Director Virgil Moore wrote in the Statesman on Monday that the wilderness is important to him, too.

“The wilderness is a special place, but it is different from a national park,” Moore wrote. “Back-country hunting, fishing and wildlife viewing are treasured opportunities, and Fish and Game has actively managed wildlife in Central Idaho since before the area was designated wilderness.”

Fish and Game officials said Tuesday that they would not comment on the suit. But last week, Moore said he thought the agency’s actions were legal.

“My reading of the Wilderness Act is nothing in this act should inhibit the state’s ability to manage its fish and wildlife,” he said.

Fish and Game has an agreement with the U.S. Forest Service to use each other’s facilities when carrying out missions. Fish and Game asked the Forest Service for permission to use a Cabin Creek administrative site and airstrip on Big Creek in the Payette National Forest for its wolf project.

District Ranger Anthony Botello Krassel said in December that he authorized the use of the sites “strictly for the purposes of managing wildlife.”

Moore has said that the killing is necessary because wolves and other predators are eating too many elk calves, and the population has not recovered to the agency’s goals despite improving habitat. Sport hunters have a hard time getting into the area, meaning few wolves are taken by hunters.

“Even if successful, this action will in no way come near to eliminating wolves,” Moore wrote. “That is not, and never will be, our goal.”

But Maughan said the Forest Service should have gotten the public involved. If the decision isn’t challenged, he said, other states could do something similar, such as killing bison that wander into a wilderness area.

“If they can do this to wolves,” Maughan said, “they can do it to any species.”

Rocky Barker: 377-6484

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