State officials pull professional wolf hunter from Idaho wilderness amid federal court fight
BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Idaho wildlife managers Monday called off a professional hunter who has been killing wolves inside a federal wilderness area since last year amid an effort by advocates to convince federal courts to halt the hunt.
Department of Fish and Wildlife officials said it was calling off the hunt, which it said was meant to bolster lackluster elk populations, after nine wolves were killed.
The state agency had planned to keep hunter Gus Thoreson of Salmon in the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness this winter.
Now, it says it will take several days to complete the collection of equipment, including traps, as well as to transport of Fish and Game personnel out of the area.
Fish and Game Director Virgil Moore's acknowledgement that Thoreson's hunt relied on the use of the U.S. Forest Service's backcountry airstrips and cabin had prompted strong emotions, including from wolf advocates who sued in federal court to force him to quit. Though they lost their initial bid to immediately stop his activities, foes of the hunt had appealed, arguing that Thoreson's activities violated the 1964 Wilderness Act and other federal acts.
"We remain committed to working with Idahoans to ensure that both wolves and healthy elk populations remain part of the wilderness," Moore said in a statement. "This action was an important step toward achieving our goal of stabilizing the Middle Fork elk population."
Moore said the agency would begin posting on its website all its future efforts to bolster elk in the region around the Middle Fork of the Salmon River starting in mid-February.
He didn't give a reason for pulling the plug on Thoreson's bid to kill wolves that made up the Golden Creek and Monumental Creek wolf packs.
Wolf advocates initially lost their bid for a federal court judge to force Thoreson to quit hunting wolves from his base on U.S. Forest Service territory.
On Monday, however, they said their continued pressure in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals helped convince Fish and Game officials to end the hunt.
"They had planned to stay there through April," said Suzanne Stone of the group Defenders of Wildlife in Boise. "I hope that they don't target wolves in the wilderness again. There's huge respect for wilderness in this state. This is one of the only places where wildlife can run free, can actually achieve more of a natural balance."
Fish and Game spokesman Mike Demick didn't return a call seeking additional comment Monday afternoon.
Wolves were reintroduced to Idaho in the mid-1990s and have since flourished in backcountry regions, including the Frank Church wilderness.
There are now about 680 wolves in the state, according to Fish and Game's 2012 estimates.