A predator hunting “derby” in Idaho didn’t require a permit from federal officials despite the use of a national forest, according to a federal judge.
Chief U.S. Magistrate Judge Ronald Bush has ruled that federal environmental law doesn’t compel the U.S. Forest Service to issue a permit or study the impacts of the derby, in which hunters competed to kill wolves, coyotes and other predators.
“The derby did involve hunting, and possibly hunting on the forest, but that hunting was a legal activity each of the participants could pursue on forest land if they chose to do so, independent of and unrelated to the derby,” he said.
Eight environmental groups filed a complaint accusing the federal agency of violating the National Environmental Policy Act by allowing Idaho for Wildlife, a hunting group, to organize derbies in 2013 and 2015 without a special use permit for the Salmon-Challis National Forest.
The Forest Service’s decision was “arbitrary and capricious” because such permits are required for similar events such as fishing contests and vehicle races, according to plaintiffs Wildearth Guardians, Cascadia Wildlands, Boulder-White Clouds Council, Kootenai Environmental Alliance, Predator Defense, Center for Biological Diversity, Western Watersheds Project and Project Coyote.
The agency gave “blanket permission” for the events without any analysis or public comment even though the U.S. Bureau of Land Management determined permits were required and then didn’t allow the competition on its property, the plaintiffs said.
“The killing contest is an organized event involving time limits, cash prizes and hundreds of participants, and has a greater impact on forest resources than recreational hunting,” according to plaintiffs.
The Forest Service argued that derbies don’t need special use permits because the hunters aren’t congregating in one location, but the agency previously decided that the distance between participants of other events was irrelevant, the environmental groups said.
Also, the hunting derbies effectively congregated people because registration and ceremonies were held in Salmon, Idaho, and hunters weren’t likely to venture far during a relatively short time frame, plaintiffs said. “In contrast to an ordinary hunting season, the contest causes an intense burst of killing over a weekend,” the plaintiffs said.
Before the Forest Service could issue a permit, officials should also have studied the environmental effects of the hunting contest as a “major federal action,” the environmentalists said.
“The contest increases the risk of wolf- and coyote-killing not just during the three- or four-day event but throughout the year by fostering intolerance to wolves and carnivores generally,” according to plaintiffs.
The judge rejected the arguments, finding that the derby didn’t charge a fee or limit hunting to the national forest’s borders, as participants could shoot predators on private lands as well.
The awarding of prizes and other events occurred outside the national forest, and it’s likely that more hunters entered the forest during peak hunting periods than during the derby, Bush said.
For similar reasons, the Forest Service didn’t have to analyze the derby under NEPA, since hunting is allowed within the national forest regardless of the contest, he said.
Bush said he didn’t doubt the environmental groups felt their enjoyment of the national forest was diminished by the hunting derby.
“But such use is permitted under the Idaho’s regulation of hunting, including for predators, and is a use that has existed on the forest since the days that Theodore Roosevelt first set aside the forest reserve in 1906 that later became the (national) forest,” he said.