Michael Gennaro

(CN) — A federal judge ruled late Tuesday that year-round wolf trapping and snaring must end in much of Idaho because the traps are likely to ensnare and harm grizzly bears protected by the Endangered Species Act.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Candy Dale’s decision will stop trapping and snaring in Idaho’s panhandle, Clearwater, Salmon and Upper Snake regions on both public and private lands between March 1 and Nov. 30, the grizzly bear’s non-denning season.

“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 wrote in her 48-page opinion.

In July 2021, Governor Brad Little approved a permanent wolf-trapping season on private property. The state also removed limits on the number of wolves one person can kill and provided financial incentives for wolf killing by raising quotas and introducing state-sponsored wolf killing by private contractors. Idaho’s decision to continue wolf baiting with meat and scent meant that grizzly bears would have frequently been attracted to wolf traps and snares.

The Center for Biological Diversity and 12 other environmental groups sued Idaho in 2021, claiming the traps harmed grizzly bears — a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act.

Plaintiffs say that wolf traps have ensnared grizzlies in Idaho, Wyoming, Montana and Canada, and two grizzlies were killed in a trap in Idaho in 2020.

Idaho had argued that a grizzly had never been caught by a recreational wolf trapper before, and that state law and trapper education courses would reduce the risk of a grizzly being accidentally caught. But Dale found that even if all procedures were followed, the 2021 wolf-trapping laws increase the risk to grizzlies in violation of the Endangered Species Act.

“Upon review of the complete record before it, the court finds plaintiffs have met their burden of demonstrating that a reasonably certain risk exists that a taking of a grizzly bear will occur even when traps and snares are lawfully set pursuant to Idaho’s laws and rules,” Dale wrote. “First, the court does not find Idaho’s argument that the absence of past take of a grizzly bear by an Idaho recreational wolf trapper complying with all of Idaho’s laws and rules is dispositive on the record now before the court. A review of applicable legal authorities indicates the court should use a standard that ‘favors endangered species to better effectuate the purpose of the ESA.’”

Environmentalists celebrated the ruling in a press release Wednesday morning.

“This is such a relief for me and for everyone who cares about grizzlies and wolves,” said Collette Adkins, carnivore conservation director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The court recognized that trapping’s just not legal when it can end up causing agonizing pain and injury to endangered animals. This is a common-sense ruling that will make grizzly bears and other wildlife safer from traps that are inherently cruel.”

In addition to protecting grizzly bears, the ruling will also likely protect other endangered species like Canadian lynx that share habitat with the grizzlies.

“This decision means that other threatened species like grizzlies won’t be caught up as collateral damage in Idaho’s persecution of wolves,” said Greg LeDonne, Idaho director for Western Watersheds Project. “The upheaval and ecological harm promoted by the state’s wolf management policies run counter to Idaho’s stated goal of reducing conflict between livestock and wildlife, and it’s good that today’s decision at least limits some of the effects of this anti-science approach.”