A controversial wolf and coyote hunting derby that angered conservationists earlier this year begins this Friday at sunrise in Idaho. The three-day hunt is now being held on mostly private land, after it was pushed off government land earlier this year.
The hunt was originally slated to occur on 3 million acres of federal land in the Rocky Mountain town of Salmon, thanks to a permit issued by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). But after a coalition of outraged environmental organizations announced plans to file a lawsuit against the agency to stop the derby, the permit was withdrawn and the derby was promptly kicked off public lands.
But that didn't stop Idaho hunters. Now, the three-day "Predator Hunting Contest and Fur Rendezvous," hosted by the group Idaho for Wildlife, will be held on private ranch land and U.S. Forest Service land near the town of Salmon, AP reports. The area is half the size of the original plan and a last-ditch attempt to revoke the land permit, led by conservationists and U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio of Oregon, failed.
The organizers are offering a $1,000 prize to the hunter who kills the most wolves and coyotes. A spokesman for the hunt said that so far, 40 hunters from outside Idaho have committed to participate.
Wolves, long the center of political and environmental conflict, were nearly extinct in much of the U.S. until an aggressive reintroduction program began in 1995. They were finally granted protection under a precursor to the Endangered Species Act in the 1960s. Since then, gray wolves have seen a slow recovery in the U.S. - though their numbers are nowhere that of their historic population.
But that trend may end soon. Approximately 1,600 Rocky Mountain gray wolves were removed from protection in 2011 by Congress, and hunters have been targeting them since. And in June 2013, the Obama administration announced plans to strip Endangered Species Act protections from gray wolves across most of the lower 48 states. Many conservationists argue that wolves' recovery is incomplete, and that the iconic animals still need government protection.