The complaint by Wild Earth Guardians and other environmental groups in U.S. District Court in Pocatello contends the U.S. Forest Service ignored federal laws by allowing the derby to proceed this Saturday and Sunday without requiring organizers to first secure a special-use permit for a commercial event.
A pro-hunting group behind the derby, Idaho for Wildlife, aims to lure up to 300 adults and children to Salmon to boost the economy -- and raise awareness for health concerns it says are related to wolves.
The environmentalists say the Forest Service failed to follow its own procedures and violated the National Environmental Policy Act by "failing entirely to consider the environmental impacts of allowing the killing contest."
They're asking a judge to halt the event by issuing a temporary restraining order.
Wolves are game animals in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming after federal Endangered Species Act protections were lifted starting in 2011. There are annual hunting and trapping seasons.
Idaho has about 680 wolves, according to 2012 estimates, following their reintroduction to the state starting in 1995 after they were nearly wiped out in the 1970s.
Coyote derbies aren't uncommon around the West, but including wolves in a contest offering up to $2,000 in cash prizes and trophies has sparked an outcry among environmental groups. Joining Wild Earth Guardians in the lawsuit were Project Coyote, the Western Watersheds Project, the Boulder-White Clouds Council and the Animal Welfare Institute.
In mid-December, Idaho for Wildlife approached the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management about the event. Both federal agencies oversee land around Salmon. But they have different regulations governing land they manage and when people who use it must get a permit for their activities.
The Forest Service concluded its regulations don't require a special-use permit for the derby, while the BLM said its rules do require a permit for competitive and organized events.
Salmon-Challis National Forest supervisor Chuck Mark said Monday he remains convinced no special-use permit is required because the group won't be erecting structures or holding commercial activities on land he oversees.
"What's happening on the forest is legal under state Fish and Game regulations," Marks said. He added hunting activities in the forest typically are considered "noncommercial."
Idaho for Wildlife President Steve Alder said the agency assured him the event is legal without a permit. But just to make sure, Alder said organizers no longer are asking for a $20 entry fee. They're instead seeking donations from participating hunters.
He expects a large crowd to descend on Salmon this weekend, including participants and those opposed to the event.
"The motels are booked," Alder said. "I think it's going to be big."
Linda Price, field manager for the BLM's Salmon office, said her agency didn't have enough time to conduct the necessary review to issue such a permit by this weekend.
As a result, Price said, the event's organizers are directing participants to Forest Service territory -- as well as private ranching ground whose owners agreed to let them use it -- and instructing them to avoid BLM ground.
Alder contends the wolf derby is meant to publicize potential human health risks from Echinococcus granulosis, a tapeworm whose hosts include elk, wolves and domesticated dogs. He and other event organizers say they fear dogs infected by sniffing or eating wolf feces could transmit the tapeworm to humans, where they could cause cysts.
Idaho health officials, however, told The Associated Press last week that they haven't discovered any evidence of wolf-human transmission.
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