BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Environmental groups have won the latest battle in their effort to halt a wolf- and coyote-shooting derby in Idaho, but a pro-hunting group says the contest with cash prizes for whoever kills the most predators will go on as planned early next year.
The U.S. Bureau of Land Management, facing two federal lawsuits from conservation groups, canceled a permit late Tuesday issued to derby organizer Idaho for Wildlife on Nov. 13.
The agency didn't mention the lawsuits in a statement but said modifications to derby rules made by the pro-hunting group after receiving the permit left it unclear if the permit could still apply without another round of analysis.
"We were expecting a fight, so it's nice to see the BLM had a change of heart," said Laura King, an attorney for the Western Environmental Law Center. "This is some of the wildest land in America. It is a safe haven for an iconic species that is just getting its foothold in the West."
Steve Alder of Idaho for Wildlife said BLM officials caved in to environmental groups.
"Somebody in (Washington), D.C., twisted that I was trying to change the application so they could blame us," he said. "They're trying to blame somebody else because they couldn't take the heat."
Alder said the derby still would be held in January on private ranches in the Salmon area and on U.S. Forest Service land, which doesn't require a permit, according to a federal judge's ruling last year. But losing the 3.1 million acres of BLM land cuts the area for the derby in half.
The contest includes a $1,000 prize each for whoever kills the most wolves and coyotes.
Joe Kraayenbrink, the BLM's district manager in Idaho Falls who signed the decision revoking the permit, didn't return a call from The Associated Press on Wednesday.
The two lawsuits filed by seven environmental groups contended that the agency violated environmental laws.
King said the Western Environmental Law Center is not withdrawing its lawsuit because it's not clear if the BLM would conduct the needed environmental analysis should Idaho for Wildlife apply for another permit.
The center is representing WildEarth Guardians, Cascadia Wildlands and the Boulder-White Clouds Council in the lawsuit that also seeks to halt the derby on Forest Service land. The groups contend environmental laws require the agency to do an environmental analysis and issue a permit.
King said a court date hasn't been set but she expected one before the derby scheduled for Jan. 2-4.
Four other environmental groups — Defenders of Wildlife, the Center for Biological Diversity, Western Watersheds Project and Project Coyote — are also suing the BLM, contending the permit opposes the federal government's wolf-reintroduction efforts.
Amy Atwood, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, said the lawsuit would continue because of ambiguity in the BLM's statement. "We think this is a serious, precedent-setting case," she said.
Alder, the derby organizer, predicted that the permit's loss could drive more hunters to shoot the predators on BLM lands anyway, though any coyotes or wolves killed there wouldn't be eligible for prize money.
"I think you're going to see more hunters out," he said. "This isn't going to save one coyote from being shot, I can guarantee that."
The event last year drew 230 people, about 100 of them hunters, who killed 21 coyotes but no wolves.