Idaho Caught in it’s Own Traps

BOISE, Idaho— It was a big week for wildlife in Idaho!  In a victory for grizzlies, wolves and conservation groups a federal judge issued a ruling Tuesday, March 19, 2024 preventing Idaho from allowing wolf trapping and snaring in grizzly bear habitat on public and private land between March 1 and Nov. 30, the non-denning season for grizzlies.

In 2021, Idaho greatly expanded wolf killing. Wolf trapping and snaring, using meat and scent bait that attracts grizzlies, was legal year-round on private land, along with year-round hunting seasons. Idaho also has a state-funded bounty system that pays private contractors for every wolf killed. Idaho wants two-thirds of the state’s wolves killed, drastically reducing the population to 500 wolves in the state’s 82,623 square miles. The state legislature didn’t care what other species were caught in wolf traps—including endangered grizzly bears. But this blatant disregard for the law trapped Idaho.

“Today’s decision is a victory for grizzly bears and all species impacted by Idaho’s indiscriminate wolf trapping and snaring,” said Ben Scrimshaw, senior associate attorney with Earthjustice’s Northern Rockies Office. “Even the state of Idaho has acknowledged the risk trapping and snaring poses to ESA-protected grizzly bears but has allowed it to continue during non-denning periods anyway. We are thankful that the court acknowledged this extreme risk and stepped in to prevent more harm.”

Idaho wolf trapping and snaring has been stopped for nine months a year, March 1 through November 30, on public and private lands in Regions 1, 2, 6 and 7. Photo from Western Watersheds Project.

Earthjustice represented thirteen conservation organizations in the lawsuit: the Center for Biological Diversity, Footloose Montana, Friends of the Clearwater, Gallatin Wildlife Association, Global Indigenous Council, the Humane Society of the United States, International Wildlife Coexistence Network, Nimiipuu Protecting the Environment, Sierra Club, Trap Free Montana, Western Watersheds Project, Wilderness Watch, and Wolves of the Rockies in the lawsuit.

Federal judge Candy W. Dale’s decision doesn’t stop wolf trapping and snaring altogether, but it does give a big reprieve of nine months’ freedom from indiscriminate wolf traps and snares that cause so much suffering and death to all creatures.

“Upon review of the complete record before it, the court finds plaintiffs have met their burden of demonstrating that a reasonably certain risk exists that a taking of a grizzly bear will occur even when traps and snares are lawfully set pursuant to Idaho’s laws and rules,” Dale wrote. “First, the court does not find Idaho’s argument that the absence of past take of a grizzly bear by an Idaho recreational wolf trapper complying with all of Idaho’s laws and rules is dispositive on the record now before the court. A review of applicable legal authorities indicates the court should use a standard that ‘favors endangered species to better effectuate the purpose of the ESA.’”

Meanwhile, Idaho is suing the federal government for rejecting its petition to strip Endangered Species Act protection from grizzlies. Judge Dale’s decision exposes the glaring fact that Idaho, like Montana, cannot be trusted with management of grizzlies if and when they are delisted.

Now grizzly bears from Idaho have a chance to naturally venture into the Bitterroot Grizzly Bear Recovery Zone. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) has mandated that Montana allow grizzlies to get to the Bitterroots from the Greater Yellowstone ecosystem and the Northern Continental Divide. Restoring grizzlies in the Bitterroot ecosystem from separate recovery zones will ensure a healthy breeding population.

Federal Judge Dale’s decision allowing Idaho’s grizzlies to reach the Bitterroots naturally has just taken the first step to real grizzly bear recovery, and we are all very grateful.