They call it the “predator derby.”

The prey includes coyotes, skunks, weasels, jackrabbits, raccoons and the endangered gray wolf. An Idaho-based hunter’s rights group is staging the three-day competitive hunt on public land in January for up to 500 hunters as young as 10.

The showdown will take place in Salmon, Idaho, a tiny town of 3,000 tucked in a Rocky Mountain valley.

Last year’s predator derby was advertised by the host group, Idaho for Wildlife, as “an incredible opportunity to team up with your son or daughter during Christmas break and spend some quality time.”

However, conservationists are calling it a “killfest.” Wildlife will be “terrorized by a swarm of armed humans elbowing and off-roading each other out of the way in a frenzied race to see who can kill the most animals in 72 hours,” warned Travis Bruner, the executive director of the Western Watersheds Project, wrote in the Huffington Post.

If the gray wolf sounds familiar, it’s because the animal has long pitted conservationists against ranchers and hunters.

The gray wolf had almost been hunted to extinction until the federal government intervened in 1995. The wolf reintroduction program worked. Maybe too well: The wolves quickly reached the target population, but environmental groups fought to keep the wolf on the endangered species list while ranchers complained the animals threatened their herds. Now, a population of more than 1,600 roams the Rockies.

The bitter fight caused Congress to step in and, in an unprecedented move, pull the gray wolf from the endangered species list for some states in 2011. In September, a federal court put the wolf back on the endangered list for the state of Wyoming while it considered whether it should stay there. In Idaho, it’s open season for hunters with a permit.

Last week, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) approved a five-year permit for the derby based on a preliminary determination it wouldn’t hurt the wolf population, but might boost the economy. Officials estimated if 100 hunters come from out of town and stay for four nights, the hunt could be a $94,000 boon to local businesses.

The decision prompted two coalitions of conservation groups to sue. The groups, led by the Defenders of Wildlife and Wildearth Guardians, want the contest postponed until the BLM does an environmental impact study on its effects. They claim the agency’s preliminary review wasn’t thorough, and that the hunt conflicts with the federal wolf reintroduction program.

The complaint accuses Idaho for Wildlife of trying to “foment anti-wolf sentiment.” But the group views environmentalists as outsiders who just don’t get it.

“[They are] a bunch of urbanites who don’t have any clue, don’t have the knowledge and wisdom and experience that we do,” Steve Alder, the executive director of Idaho for Wildlife, told the Guardian. “They don’t understand our lives, they don‘t understand where meat comes from.”

On its Web site, Idaho for Wildlife explained that ranchers and hunters “feel helpless as they experience depredation of their domestic livestock and the local wild elk population.” The derby is a “manifestation of great people banning together to seek different solutions when they feel threatened.”

Alder told the Guardian he doesn’t actually expect anyone to kill wolves because, despite their resurgence in numbers, they are really hard to find.

h/t The Guardian

Clarification: This story has been updated to reflect that the federal court decision only affects gray wolves in Wyoming.