Hungry like the trial lawyer

They’ll be shooting gray wolves in Idaho this weekend. Citizens there eagerly purchased 14,500 tags for each to kill a quota of just over 200 wolves. The hunters know all about the wolf’s overpopulation, and they also know they might never get such a chance again. Environmental groups and their $600-an-hour lawyers have been working around the clock to prevent this and all future hunts.

To add insult to their injury, the eager hunters in the West are not just battling the environmentalists. They have also been paying their nemesis’ legal bills. As taxpayers, they must under the Endangered Species Act pay for the environmentalists’ battle to infest their lands and mountains with as many as 5,000 wolves — several times the number there today.

The introduction of Canadian gray wolves into the Northern Rockies began in 1995. It is one of government’s more successful programs, in the sense that the once-endangered animals have multiplied like a virus.

By the 1930s, gray wolves had been all but eradicated in the area. The government’s original aim in 1995 was to form a stable population of 300 gray wolves between the three states of Wyoming, Montana and Idaho, with a total of at least 30 mating pairs.

More than a decade later, though, there are nearly 800 gray wolves and at least 43 mating pairs in Idaho alone, according to a report from Idaho’s Department of Fish and Game. Their population grows at 10 percent annually.

In Idaho alone, wolves kill nearly 200 sheep annually, and dozens of cattle. When the state surveyed 370 shepherds and cattle ranchers, 87 percent said they believe the wolves could put them out of business. In neighboring Montana, wolves killed 120 sheep in a single incident two months ago.

Gray wolves came off the endangered list earlier this year, but environmentalists are suing to put them back on. Meanwhile, Idaho and Montana are allowing hunts as a way of mitigating their wolf problem.

But hunters had better shoot them while they can. If you think these wolves are ferocious beasts waiting to sink their teeth into a vulnerable target, you should see the environmentalist trial lawyers who are defending them.

The lawyers swarm in packs, with several groups joining each wolf-related lawsuit — the Sierra Club, Help Our Wolves Live (HOWL), the Center for Biological Diversity and several others. They sue the government, over and over again, in the hopes of boosting the region’s wolf population to “2,000 to 5,000.”

These lawyers know that every time they win — even if they merely “achiev[e] some success … on the merits of their claims” — the law puts taxpayers on the hook for their legal bills. Some of these lawyers bill at more than $600 per hour.

At least real wolves kill their own natural prey. The wolves of environmental litigation are more like scavengers, seizing food from the taxpayer’s family table.

In the most prominent 2008 case regarding the wolf’s removal from the Endangered Species list, lawyers demanded $669,000 in legal fees for just over 1,000 hours of work. A judge awarded them less than half that amount in that particular case, but a mere five other recent wolf litigation cases netted $1 million for a handful of wolf lawyers.

That may explain in part why the current flourishing of the gray wolf is not enough for the environmental lawyers. Having far surpassed the government’s minimum goal of 300 wolves, they are now in court demanding thousands of wolves, which will wreak havoc in the Mountain West.

If the lawyers succeed in banning future wolf hunts in Idaho and Montana, they stand to make hundreds of thousands of dollars more. Idahoans and Montanans, whether they are aware or not, will pay the bill once again to have their freedom, safety and livelihood taken away.

David Freddoso is an Examiner commentary staff writer who can be reached at dfreddoso@washingtonexaminer.com.

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