California the First to Ban Predator Prizes While Idaho Forges Ahead With Wolf-Killing Derby

(EnviroNews California) — Van Nuys, CA — Will not allowing prizes for California wildlife hunting derbies deter such events from taking place? Groups like Project Coyote certainly think so.

On December 3, with a 4 to 1 vote, the California Fish and Game Commission passed a motion prohibiting prizes during hunting derbies — the first state in the nation to do so.

Project Coyote, headquartered in Northern California, led the effort to get California’s ban passed.

The group is comprised of a broad coalition of wildlife scientists, educators, community leaders and predator-friendly ranchers across North America. Their goal is to change negative attitudes about coyotes, wolves and other native carnivores.

In a phone interview with EnviroNews, Executive Director Camilla Fox called the prize ban “precedent setting,” and said it could act as a springboard for other states to follow suit.

“I think momentum is building across the county,” Fox said.

Next year the group plans to work with allies to get legislation introduced in New Mexico to ban killing contests. Project Coyote recently won a lawsuit in collaboration with the Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) in shutting down a large derby in Oregon.

The ALDF reported on its website that more than 30 people gave public testimony, with many people voicing support for the California prize ban.

Tens of thousands of people also signed a petition by Project Coyote in support of reeling in the contests.

Project Coyote is also involved in fighting a planned predator derby hosted by Idaho for Wildlife (IFW) in north central Idaho in January on federal, state and private lands.

After Advocates for the West, Center for Biological Diversity, Western Watersheds Project, Project Coyote and Defenders of Wildlife threatened to sue the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) the agency revoked a permit allowing the contest to take place on approximately three million acres of public lands in north central Idaho near the town of Salmon on January 2 and 3, 2015.

Up to 500 hunters are allowed to participate, and prizes including a cash purse for the largest wolf killed are planned to be awarded during the derby.

Although derby organizers say animals killed on BLM land won’t count for prizes participants can still hunt on nearby Forest Service, state and private lands.

The groups involved in getting the BLM to pull IFW’s permit are hoping to stop the derby from happening on Forest Service lands as well.

They signed a letter on December 1, 2014 urging the United States Forest Service to reconsider it’s stance that IFW doesn’t need a permit. The letter was written by the Boise, Idaho based public interest environmental law firm Advocates for the West.

After IFW requested a permit for their event on Forest Service lands, the agency decided IFW did not even need one.

By side-stepping the permitting issue, the Forest Service no longer needed to explore several potential issues with the proposed event, such as safety or how it would impact environmentally sensitive areas and other protected species.

“By failing to require a Special Use Permit (SUP), the Forest Service has avoided its duty to evaluate important criteria for protecting our public lands,” the letter states.

The letter from Advocates of the West also indicates Idaho’s killing contest could be considered a “commercial activity,” or “group activity,” and both require a SUP.

Those fighting the derby point out that “noncommercial group uses,” of FS land, such as weddings, church services, endurance rides, camping trips, hikes, music festivals and rallies would need an SUP.

” … the Forest Service failed to even evaluate whether the derby qualifies as a group use,” the letter states.

The federal agency indicated the derby did not need a permit because it’s a commercial event and the paying of registration fees would not be taking place on Forest Service land but rather on private property.

Oregon Representative Peter DeFazio, ranking Democratic member of the House Committee on Natural Resources says the Forest Service should require IFW to get a permit for its derby.

DeFazio sent a letter on December 2nd to Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell “to express serious concerns about the U.S. Forest Service’s stewardship of wildlife resources on lands under the Committee’s jurisdiction.”

“Despite the fact that much of the hunting was to occur within the National Forest System (NFS), the Forest Service determined the contest was not a commercial event occurring on NFS land, and, therefore, no special use permit was required. This determination was questionable at the time, and I ask that you revisit it in light of recent events,” DeFazio wrote.

DeFazio stated he hoped the FS would not allow the hunt to take place on its land this year, “to ensure there is time to conduct and Environmental Impact Statement of the event and permit application.”

Forest Service Acting Assistance Director/External Communications Larry Chambers did not return calls for comment.

After the BLM revoked its permit IFW Director Steve Adler told EnviroNews via a press release the derby would take place on private lands.

However, he now says derby hunting will take place on more than private land.

“Yes we plan on hunting [on] Forest Service, Private and state land. It would also be unlawful for us to tell people not to hunt on BLM land. They just need to realize any predators taken from BLM land will not qualify for the derby,” Adler stated in an email to EnviroNews.

Although the Idaho Department of Fish and Game’s (IFG) website indicated the agency does not support contests like the one IFG will hold, Regional Director Tom Curet said the department is remaining neutral.

“We remain neutral on the derby like we did last year,” Curet said, as the department is not giving any financial or any other extra support.

“Idaho law allows for this kind of activity to go on … it’s a perfectly legitimate activity,” Curet said.

If changes are made to how IFG handles such derbies in the future the law will need to change on the state level.

Curet said coyote hunting can take place year round and hunters can take as many as they want. Wolves are managed in Idaho like big game and can only be taken during specified hunting seasons. Hunters can purchase up to five tags a season.

“We carefully regulate their harvest,” Curet said.

IFG will be conducting patrols of the derby area to make sure Idaho hunting rules are followed and Curet said no problems were tied to the event last year.

Wolves were removed from the endangered species list in 2011 following many years of recovery efforts in central and eastern Idaho.