Idaho: Judge rejects predator plan


Caspar Star Tribune

BOISE, Idaho (AP) -- A federal judge has quashed a U.S. Department of Agriculture project to kill predators across hundreds of square miles of public lands in southern Idaho to protect imperiled sage grouse.

U.S. District Court Judge B. Lynn Winmill ruled Tuesday that the predator plan devised by the agency's Wildlife Services arm lacked an adequate environmental analysis.

"We hope this decision will put an end to the nonsense that predators are depleting sage grouse populations," said Todd Tucci, the attorney representing the Committee for the High Desert, Western Watersheds Project, Idaho Conservation League and Defenders of Wildlife.

"Every objective biologist knows that degraded habitat, and not predators, is causing sage grouse populations to plummet."

The plan was a joint proposal between Wildlife Services, which kills livestock predators, and the Idaho Department of Fish and Game.

Under the proposal, Wildlife Services intended to use aerial and ground shooting, traps, poisons and other devices to remove up to 75 percent of the coyotes, foxes, badgers, ravens and other grouse predators from various target areas covering 1,300 square miles over a six-year period.

A year after winning a federal court order barring the predator control campaign in 2001, four environmental groups went back to court last April to block an even more extensive version of that plan.

The federal government agreed to delay the project until the legal challenge was resolved.

The 2001 predator study and control plan was intended to track several localized populations of sage grouse that lived in similar habitats. Predators would be removed from some areas to determine what effect it would have on the survival of young sage grouse compared with areas where no predators were removed.

The environmental assessment "contains an unusual twist: it proposes to kill sage grouse predators in specific locations but does not study those locations," Winmill wrote.

A study conducted by Fish and Game and the University of Idaho in 1999 and 2000 found that 82 percent to 86 percent of newly hatched sage grouse died, and predators were responsible for 90 percent to 100 percent of those deaths.


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