PORTLAND — The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has been asked to decide whether a predator hunting contest can be held in a national forest without a federal permit.
The Forest Service decided that a permit wasn’t required for such a “derby” in Idaho’s Salmon-Challis National Forest, which was upheld by a federal judge last year.
Wildearth Guardians and five other environmental groups have now asked the 9th Circuit to reverse that ruling, arguing that a permit was required and should also have been analyzed for environmental impacts.
Unless permits are required, future hunting contests for wolves, coyotes and other predators could take place without any federal oversight, said Andrea Santarsiere, attorney for the environmental plaintiffs, during oral arguments on July 11 in Portland, Ore.
“The public will have absolutely no notice of these derbies,” she said.
Christine England, an attorney for the government, argued that a permit wasn’t necessary because the hunters aren’t limited to any particular part of the national forest and can hunt outside it.
“They weren’t planning to use any specific Forest Service lands,” England said.
There would be no way for the federal agency to enforce the permit without harassing people to find out whether they were participating in the contest, she said.
Forest Service regulations only require such permits for congregations of more than 75 people, she said.
“There was no group use, just individual hunters,” said England.
Santarsiere, the environmental attorney, countered that up to 250 people compete in a derby, triggering the need for a permit since the Forest Service doesn’t have rules pertaining to the proximity among individuals in groups.
In reality, the contestants have limited daylight hours and hunt within a relatively close proximity to each other, she said.
“As a practical matter, they will be congregated,” Santarsiere said.
Requiring a permit would also fit the purpose of the Forest Service’s regulations: to protect public safety, she said.
Under the agency’s current interpretation of its rules, a dog show or Girl Scout picnic would require a permit, but not a hunting contest with potentially greater impacts, she said.
Another matter under consideration by the 9th Circuit is whether the case is moot.
The litigation pertains to hunting derbies that already took place in 2013 and 2015, but no similar events are currently planned, said England, the government’s attorney.
However, the environmental groups have evidence that future derbies are being considered, which would warrant an injunction, said Santarsiere.
“This case is absolutely capable of repetition yet evading review,” she said.