Letters From the West

Otter signs wolf control board bill as feds are silent

Wolves in the Northern Rockies (Associated Press photo)

Wolves in the Northern Rockies (Associated Press photo)

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter signed a bill Thursday that establishes an Idaho Wolf Depredation Control Board.

The amended bill places the new board within the governor’s office to fund wolf management with $400,000 from general tax dollars, and additional funds from hunting and fishing licenses and taxes on livestock. Supporters say the board simply will replace funding lost by cuts to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services Agency.

But critics say it’s a part of a targeted attack on wolves that breaks the state’s commitment to manage the predators like it does other game animals. Jamie Rappaport Clark, a former U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service director and now president of Defenders of Wildlife, told the Idaho Statesman Thursday the state’s wolf management program was “irresponsible.”

“This is not about hunting,” Clark said. “This is an issue of extermination as fast as they can.”

Idaho’s wolf population has steadily decreased since 2009 when they were first removed from the protection of the Endangered Species Act. Lawsuits by wildlife groups, including Defenders, convinced a federal judge to order the animal back on the list in 2010.

Congress took the unprecedented action of removing them from the list again in 2011. Today, a minimum of 480 wolves remain after a high of more than 850.

Under the Endangered Species Act, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is required to monitor the wolf population for five years. The Center for Biological Diversity said this month the dramatic population drop and the state’s unwillingness to protect wolves in the Frank Church-River of No Return wilderness violates commitments Idaho made. CBD said it was preparing a lawsuit to require the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service step in and either relist the wolf or extend the monitoring period another five years.

I asked to interview U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe but was told he would be unavailable. His spokesman, Gavin Shire in Washington, referred me to the state, which controls wolves as long as they are above the recovery level of 150 wolves.

“Should wolf numbers drop below that threshold, the Service can re-list either or both populations of the gray wolf under the Endangered Species Act and re-assume responsibility for wolf management,” he said.

Interior officials are troubled by Idaho’s actions, Clark said, but they have not carried out the leadership through their monitoring responsibilities she expects. “Instead they seemed to have turned a blind eye to what has happened in the Northern Rockies,” Clark said.

Steve Alder represents Idaho for Wildlife, a Lewiston-based hunters group that has lobbied for more wolf killing. He said he hopes the control board’s funds are used to quickly radio-collar 150 wolves to ensure Idaho can prove it’s meeting the recovery goal.

“We have to make sure we have a cushion and a threshold with that 150,” he said. “We don’t want to trigger the feds coming back in.”

Clark said she supports the Center for Biological Diversity’s goal to get her old agency to intervene with Idaho.

“I don’t think they are at a point where they will be able to involve the (Endangered Species Act),” Clark said. “But this is not what success looked like when we put these wolves in Idaho.”

Rocky Barker is the energy and environment reporter for the Idaho Statesman and has been writing about the West since 1985. He is the author of Scorched Earth How the Fires of Yellowstone Changed America and co-producer of the movie Firestorm: Last Stand at Yellowstone, which was inspired by the book and broadcast on A&E Network. He also co-authored the Flyfisher's Guide to Idaho and the Wingshooter's Guide to Idaho with Ken Retallic. He also was on the Statesman’s team that covered the Sen. Larry Craig sex scandal, which was one of three Pulitzer Prize finalists in breaking news in 2007. The National Wildlife Federation awarded him its Conservation Achievement Award.

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