BOISE, Idaho --An Idaho outfitter is organizing a post-Christmas contest where two-person teams of hunters will be awarded $2,000 in cash prizes and trophies for shooting wolves and coyotes, angering animal advocates who brand it as a "wolf slaughter."
Shane McAfee, who guides clients on hunts around Salmon, Idaho, downplays the bloodlust angle of this hunting derby, which encourages kids to participate. He expects relatively few predators to be shot during the event Dec. 28-29.
McAfee contends he's mostly aiming to boost local business -- 300 hunters might participate, he said -- and raise awareness about a parasite he believes could be transmitted from wolf feces to domestic dogs and possibly humans.
By contrast, the Humane Society of the United States labels the derby as inhumane. Lisa Kauffman, its Idaho director, said the tapeworm angle is a red-herring, too, as foes "use every excuse they can come up with" as they seek to reduce predator numbers and turn public opinion against wolves reintroduced to the state in 1995.
"This is a wolf massacre," wrote Wayne Pacelle, the Washington, D.C.-based animal-rights group's president, in a letter to members Thursday. "Rewarding shooters (including young children) with prizes takes us back to an earlier era of wanton killing that so many of us thought was an ugly, ignorant and closed chapter in our history."
McAfee counters that Pacelle's group is blowing his event out of proportion to appeal to deep-pocketed donors. "We might harvest two or three wolves in the derby. It's mainly for coyote control," McAfee said.
He also hopes the derby succeeds in publicizing Echinococcus granulosis, a tapeworm whose hosts include elk, wolves and domesticated dogs. He worries dogs infected by sniffing or eating wolf feces could transmit the tapeworm to humans, where they could cause cysts.
"The people of our town are tired of the threat of the disease," McAfee contends.
In fact, human infections are rarely reported in Idaho. A firm link between humans and wolves isn't established.
A 2011 report produced by Mark Drew, a wildlife veterinarian with the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, found just a few documented human cases that may have originated in Idaho. All were reported before wolves were re-introduced 18 years ago.
In 2011, state epidemiologist Dr. Christine Hahn issued a call to Idaho's medical community for possible cases as concerns surfaced about the parasite being transmitted to humans.
In an interview Thursday, however, Hahn said that effort uncovered no evidence of such cases. People concerned about the parasite should take appropriate precautions, she said: Treat their dogs and cats for tapeworm, practice good hygiene, avoid harvesting sick animals, and wear rubber gloves when field dressing wild game, among other things.
"Echinococcus granulosis is one of many naturally occurring parasites that occur in wildlife," she said. "Precautions for Echinococcus are really no different than for a host of other diseases that occur naturally in the environment and can infect humans."
Wolves are game animals in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming after federal Endangered Species Act protections were lifted starting in 2011. There are annual hunting and trapping seasons.
Idaho has about 680 wolves, according to 2012 estimates.
The Department of Fish and Game isn't promoting McAfee's predator derby. But its wildlife managers also won't intervene to stop it, provided participants follow state regulations and secure the requisite tags to hunt wolves. "That's the key," said spokesman Mike Keckler.
Contests where hunters target predators aren't unusual in the West. In northeastern Washington last year, derby hunters shot nearly 300 coyotes over a two-month span in three counties. Similarly, an Idaho group held a "Predator Derby" coyote shoot in 2007.
But Keckler can't recall the West's last wolf derby.
"I've not heard of one -- outside of this one," he said.