Ranchers, hunters to fund wolf control proposal

In his January “state of the state” address, Gov. Otter proposed $2 million in seed money the state would provide to establish and fund a new wolf control board.

Lawmakers in the Idaho House Resources and Conservation Committee advanced that proposal by a 9-8 vote Jan. 27, amid what one committee member, Ilana Rubel, termed “sticker shock” over the new program’s cost and others’ concern that creating a new board to administer the fund would expand the state’s bureaucracy.

Otter proposed the $2 million as a one-time contribution from the state’s general fund, but the fund would also include two streams of recurring revenue. The proposal calls for a $25 increase on the state brand renewal fee (which would rise to $125 every five years) and an increase of 2 cents per pound on the wool fee. (The wool fee would climb to 6 cents per pound). The fee increases would raise about $100,000 from cattle ranchers and about $25,000 from sheep growers per year, according to the Spokesman-Review. These so-called “wolf control assessment” fees would add $110,000 annually to the proposed wolf control fund.

The wolf control fund would also receive $110,000 annually from Idaho Department of Fish and Game.

Proponent Rep. Marc Gibbs of Grace, who brought the bill to the committee, cited “support from various groups. Sportsmen have generally supported this bill, the livestock industry, the sheep industry and I believe the Farm Bureau have supported this legislation.”

But noting that the bill barely survived the first reading, Capital Press quoted Idaho Cattle Association executive Wyatt Prescott as follows immediately after the vote: “We have a lot of work to do…we need this legislation to help control these wolves.”

The proposed wolf control board would direct the money to killing problem wolves.

The board membership would consist of the director of the state department of agriculture, the director of the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, and three others to be appointed by the governor to represent sportsmen’s interests, the livestock industry and the public at large.

As it discussed whether or not to print the bill, the committee noted the state already has an Animal Damage Control (ADC) board – which is responsible for coyotes, wolves, mountain lions, starlings, ravens and others – as well as a depredation committee intended to route money to those who lose livestock to predators. Rep. Mike Moyle of Star suggested a whole new board may not be necessary if the ADC could do the job. Sen. Bert Brackett of Rogerson answered that a single purpose-board would be more effective and easier to audit. Gibbs described the advantage of a designated wolf control board as “the flexibility to put the pressure where it’ll do the most good.”

“To me, the importance of a separate wolf board…is it gives the board the flexibility to work with anyone they need to in order to meet the objectives,” Gibbs said. He explained that “the intent of this control board is not to eliminate wolves. The last thing anybody I know in the state of Idaho wants to see is for us to have to have discussions about putting wolves back on the Endangered Species list.”

He said the board would be bound by the state’s existing wolf management plan, approved by the state legislature in 2002, so as to avoid a relisting of canis lupus under the Endangered Species Act or a resumption of federal management.

Wolves were delisted in 2009, but after the state’s first regulated wolf hunt ended in March 2010, wolves again came under federal protection, and remained protected until 2011. In 2011, after Idaho wolves were once again delisted, IDFG described three scenarios that would lead U.S. Fish and Wildlife to review wolves’ status: if the wolf population falls below 100; if the wolf population falls below 150 for three consecutive years, or “if a change in state law or management objectives would significantly increase the threat to the wolf population.”

“As long as we’re within [the approved management plan], we still may be sued but we’ll have a defendable line of defense,” Brackett said.

The proposed bill would not authorize any new method for killing problem wolves. Presently, wolf managers rely on three methods: sport hunting, trapping and aerial gunning. During a nine-month span beginning Aug. 30, 2011, hunters took 255 wolves and trappers took 124 wolves. Hunters and trappers took 199 and 120 wolves, respectively, during the 2012-2013 season. As of Feb. 3, the current season’s take has been 166 by hunters and 66 by trappers. In Dec. 2013, IDFG contracted for wolf control in the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness; nine wolves were removed before IDFG abruptly called off the action on Jan. 27.

Rubel questioned whether the wolf population could be reduced to the mandatory 150 more cheaply, suggesting that Otter’s proposed $2 million allocation would price the removal of 500 wolves at $4,000 apiece. She then opened a discussion of bounties, which Gibbs said would be unpopular and ineffective, citing a two-day wolf derby held in the Salmon area late last year.

The wolf derby organizers offered two $1,000 prizes – one for the biggest wolf, one for the most coyotes. But according to the Associated Press, despite drawing more than 230 hunters to Salmon, no wolves were shot. The hunters bagged 21 coyotes.

By comparison, during a three-day stint in February 2012, helicopter-borne federal wildlife agents partnered with IDFG to kill 14 wolves at an estimated cost of $22,500, or about $1,600 per wolf.

Years of cost-cutting has pared back federal wildlife control funding, in turn reducing the Idaho Wildlife Services budget by about $750,000 since 2010, according to the Spokesman-Review.

Brackett, who will support the bill in the state Senate, put it to the House Resources and Conservation Committee this way early in the discussion: creating the fund “doesn’t make up the loss of [federal money]. It is a good start.”

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