Idaho wolf trapping halted. Court cites potential deaths of protected grizzlies - East Idaho News

Idaho wolf trapping halted. Court cites potential deaths of protected grizzlies

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BOISE (Idaho Statesman) – A federal court ruling will cut back Idaho’s wolf trapping and snaring season in large swaths of the state in response to claims that grizzly bears, which are protected under the Endangered Species Act, could be killed or injured by trapping or snaring devices.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Candy Dale issued the summary judgment Tuesday as part of a 2021 lawsuit filed by environmental activist groups over the Idaho Legislature’s expansion of trapping seasons.

She wrote that “there is ample evidence in the record, including from Idaho’s own witnesses, that lawfully set wolf traps and snares are reasonably likely to take grizzly bears in Idaho.”

Dale’s ruling ends the wolf trapping season in northern and eastern Idaho between March 1 and Nov. 31, when grizzlies are out of their dens, unless the Idaho Department of Fish and Game obtains an incidental take permit from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The permit would waive potential Endangered Species Act violation liability if a grizzly is caught or killed in traps meant for another species.

The Idaho Department of Fish and Game did not immediately return a request for comment on the ruling.

The ruling applies to hunting units in the Panhandle, Clearwater, Salmon and Upper Snake Fish and Game regions, where current trapping seasons on public land range from mid-September to the end of March.

Dale’s ruling also rolled back a portion of controversial 2021 legislation that expanded wolf trapping season on private land to be legal year-round.


The Tuesday ruling cataloged several instances in which grizzly bears have been caught, injured or killed in traps and snares set for wolves. Though just three of those incidents — two in 2020 and one in 2012 — occurred in Idaho, Dale said similar scenarios in Montana and Wyoming proved the possibility that wolf traps posed a danger to the threatened bears despite Idaho trappers and Fish and Game experts calling such instances highly unlikely.

In 2020, two young male grizzlies in Boundary County were killed after becoming caught in wolf snares. Fish and Game enforcement reported the first had “a wolf snare very tightly around its neck and another wolf snare wrapped around its front left paw.” The second grizzly was shot and killed by hunters that mistook it for a black bear. That grizzly had a broken wolf snare around its neck that Fish and Wildlife Service officials said “would have eventually resulted in death.”

The snares in both incidents were determined to be illegally set and contained no information identifying the trapper who set them, as required by Idaho law.

In 2012, a professional Fish and Game trapper caught a grizzly in a wolf foothold trap in eastern Idaho. The bear was released with minor injuries.

Dale’s judgment said it’s possible other grizzlies have been caught in snares or traps intended for wolves and have managed to break free. Another Idaho grizzly was photographed in 2019 with apparent snare scars around its neck. The judge also noted that trappers may not report non-target catches. She said existing inadvertent catch reports are “woefully inadequate” and note 37 instances of bears caught in traps or snares when Fish and Game did not note the bear’s species.

Dale said Idaho’s grizzly population is roughly 200 animals, with most concentrated in the Panhandle and eastern Idaho’s Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. However, the bears have also been seen in recent years wandering into the Bitterroot Ecosystem, where federal officials may try to reestablish a grizzly population. The animals have been considered extinct in that area of Central Idaho for decades, and Dale said trapping or snaring of grizzlies there could upend recovery efforts.

“The reality of even one take could have profound effects upon Idaho’s grizzly bear population,” Dale wrote.

Read the judge’s ruling here.