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The Fishlake National Forest has joined the Dixie National Forest in defending against a lawsuit by environmental groups to stop predator control measures.

The Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance filed a suit seeking to halt lethal means of coyote control, particularly shooting the animals from aircraft and helicopters. Most environmental groups oppose such control methods.A predator control plan on the Dixie Forest was appealed to the regional forester, who upheld the right of the Forest Service to continue the practice. The alliance then filed suit in federal court to stop predator control action. A decision on that filing is expected after May 1.

Fishlake National Forest Supervisor Toby Martinez said a similar appeal was recently filed against that agency. Instead of duplicating the legal process, regional forestry officials decided the Dixie and the Fishlake forests would enjoin in the suits, an action approved by groups that had filed suits.

It is anticipated this will help to get an early resolution of the problem, Martinez said. "As part of that, we agreed to a stipulation that we will give no authorization for predator control measures until a decision has been rendered after May 1."

Andy Godfrey, information officer with the Fishlake Forest, said the decision will set a precedent. "As long as we've complied with the National Environmental Policy Act, that's as far as the suit goes." The act outlines procedures for the Forest Service must follow in such cases.

If the Forest Service is found to be in compliance with the act, groups seeking a halt to predator control would then have to seek a legislative change in national policy.

Forest officials require stockmen who have grazing permits to show they are being economically impacted by predators before control measures are ordered. "We feel we have a real need, a legitimate need, to take control measures because of various agreements with permittees," Godfrey said.

Martinez added that any proposed predator control is being challenged and that "There are rumblings that legislative decisions will have to be made." He said the Fishlake Forest will live by the decisions that are rendered and that the agency has the desire to work in the best interests of the public.

"Enjoining this lawsuit is going to cause concern and consternation to the permittees, but by going this route we will have a better and more complete resolution to this problem," the supervisor said.

Martinez said five requests for predator control measures have been received by the Fishlake Forest this year. Three of the requests met Forest Service requirements. The responsibility for control measures lies with the federal Animal Plant Health Inspection Service.

Forest officials point out that coyotes are not an endangered species and that licenses or permits to hunt the animals are not required in Utah.