BOISE — A plan to kill wolves and other predators that attack livestock, deer and elk in Idaho is the subject of an environmental study that will include public comment, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said Monday.
"We're going into this with the intent of taking a fresh look at all the different issues, and that's what we hope to get from the public," said Kirk Gustad, the Agriculture Department's project manager for the Idaho EIS.
Comments will be taken until July 10.
A federal judge ordered the review last year after ruling the Agriculture Department's Wildlife Services agency violated environmental laws by not providing the justification to expand killing of mountain lions, coyotes, bears and other predators.
Western Watersheds Project and other conservation groups sued in 2017, contending the agency needed the extensive study to better understand the ramifications.
The Agriculture Department said the environmental impact statement will replace a 2016 assessment that was the subject of the lawsuit. The agency said it will also use the new environmental impact statement to replace its 2011 wolf environmental assessment that guides its wolf-killing decisions in Idaho, which is the subject of a separate federal lawsuit.
"This is a welcome step forward," said Laird Lucas, an attorney for Advocates for the West, which is representing groups in both lawsuits. But he said there are concerns the study will "truly look at the science and the important role that predators play."
Another lawsuit filed by an eastern Idaho family last year involves the use of a spring-loaded predator killing trap called an M-44. The family in a lawsuit said that such a device in 2017 injured their then 14-year-old son and killed the boy's dog when they triggered the trap on federal public land. The teen still has headaches from poison emitted by the trap, the lawsuit said.
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The devices are embedded in the ground and look like lawn sprinklers but spray cyanide when they are set off. They are meant to protect livestock but sometimes kill pets and injure people.
The Agriculture Department in the notice on Monday said it does not currently use M-44s in Idaho, but the environmental review will look at that option. Gustad said the current ban includes both public and private land.
The agency in recent years has also killed wolves in Idaho to boost elk populations at the request of the Idaho Department of Fish and Game.
One of the alternatives the federal agency said it is considering when killing predators to protect wildlife is limiting that to only protect species listed under the Endangered Species Act. Such a decision would end the Agriculture Department's practice of killing wolves to boost elk herd numbers.
Wildlife Services kills and removes predators that kill livestock in many states, especially in the U.S. West.
In Idaho, the Agriculture Department said workers killed nearly 3,000 coyotes in 2018 along with 84 wolves, eight mountain lions, 14 black bears and 44 badgers.
Gustad said it could take from one to three years for a draft environmental impact statement to be prepared, which would be followed by a public comment period.