Fish and Game Commission shelves predator reduction plan
Commissioners to examine predator reduction in Selway wilderness
By GREG STAHL
Express Staff Writer
BOISE-The Idaho Fish and Game Commission has for the time being
abandoned a proposed predator-reduction plan.
The seven-member commission made its decision by consensus on Thursday
following a crowded and heated public hearing last Wednesday night.
However, the commission did decide to look into reducing predator
populations in the Selway/Bitterroot Wilderness and to begin drawing up a statewide
predator management plan.
Predators generally include bears, coyotes, cougars and birds of prey.
Following a report from its wildlife bureau chief, the commission
concluded that a plan to significantly reduce predator numbers statewide would cost too
much money and require poisoning and year-round hunting seasonsmethods that are not
considered sound wildlife management practices.
The large-scale predator-reduction plan was conceived at the
commissions early-September meeting in Sandpoint by Commissioner Roy Moulton, a
Driggs-based lawyer and the commissions Upper Snake Region representative. Its
purpose was to allow game species of mule deer and elk, and possibly upland birds such as
sage grouse, to recover.
Wildlife bureau chief Steven Huffaker told the commission, however,
that mule deer populations statewide are healthy and elk populations are only waning in
the Selway/Bitterroot Wilderness and Middle Fork of the Salmon River area. Sage grouse
populations are dropping, he said, because of habitat loss, not because of predation.
During the public comment session on Wednesday evening, the 100-seat
capacity of the commissioners meeting chamber was filled, and people spilled into
the hallways. Ex-Fish and Game commissioners, Fish and Game personnel, ex-state
legislators, wildlife advocates and hunters all turned out to lend an ear or speak their
An imaginary line was drawn, hunters on one side and animal advocates
on the other, and one after another stood and contradicted the others testimony.
Amid this charged atmosphere, wildlife advocates applauded a
womans testimony. When told to stop by commissioners, the woman became angry and
stormed out of the meeting.
"We would just urge that you reconsider the proposed predator
plan," Idaho Wildlife Federation spokesman Jack Fisher told the commission.
"This is not in the best interest of solid wildlife management."
Ketchum resident and Idaho Animal Advocates representative Marilyn
Martin presented the commission with 400 petition signatures from the Ketchum area asking
that efforts toward a widespread predator reduction plan not be continued.
"Idaho wildlife is a treasure and should be managed
accordingly," she said. "We urge you to preserve, protect and defend all Idaho
Defenders of Wildlife representative Susan Lafferty of Boise told the
commission that one component of the ecosystem cannot be altered without another being
changed, not always beneficially. And predators are an obvious competitor for the same
resource hunters are after, she pointed out.
Most hunters at the meeting said they had seen deer and elk populations
decline in the past 10 years, and blame predators.
Boise resident Dick Kent, an avid hunter who recently retired from the
Army, said he has hunted all over the world. He said he always dreamed of the day
hed be able to hunt the wild lands of Idaho with its abundant deer and elk.
On a recent trip to the White Cloud Mountains, Kent said, he saw a lot
of wolf scat but no elk. In subsequent hunting trips, he said, hes not seen one elk.
"I want to commend the commission on a well thought-out
plan," he said,
Ed Hedges, an ex-Idaho legislator and hunter, told the commissioners,
"In Alaska you can kill five wolves before you have to buy a license. Thats
where you should start (with the plan)."
Huffaker told the commission that a reduction of predators, including
cougars and black bear (the bear prey on infant elk), in the Selway/Bitterroot Wilderness
could give wildlife managers a further idea of how elk are affected by predators. The
commission told Huffaker to research further the possibility of reducing predator
populations in that area through increased hunting opportunities.
The Wood River Valley and Fish and Games Magic Valley Region have
healthy elk herds and would not be affected by such area-specific policies.
According to Huffaker, reducing predator populations in the
Selway/Bitterroot Wilderness vicinity will initially help certain dwindling elk
populations to recover, but those populations will not stay healthy in the long run unless
habitat is restored. It would be a short-term solution to a long-term problem, he said.
Habitat in the wilderness has aged, and young plant life, which provide
good forage for elk, are not prospering beneath the aging, climax forest canopy, Huffaker
said in an interview. He said its been close to 100 years since the habitat in that
area has been renewed either by logging or fire.
He stressed that "when youve got healthy habitat, predation
still goes on, but the prey base is able to prosper despite the losses to predation."
It is not within Fish and Games power to make habitat decisions.
Fish and Game can only make recommendations to the U.S. Forest Service or Bureau of Land
In addition to furthering efforts to reduce predators in the
Selway/Bitterroot area, the commission voted unanimously to reduce elk hunting there by
one third next season.
Huffaker told the commission that before a predator-reduction plan can
be drawn up, the state will need an overall predator management policy. Toward that end,
Huffaker recommended that the commission use as a foundation a predator management plan
recently adopted by the state of Utah.
Utahs policy was put into place on Aug. 16 after two years of
research and public comment. It allows the Utah Division of Wildlife Resourcesthe
states equivalent of Idahos Department of Fish and Gameto take steps
toward reducing predator populations when they are "believed to be inhibiting the
ability of the Division to attain management objectives for other wildlife
The policy lists three methods by which predator populations can be
reduced. Listed in order of preference, they are: Licensed or permitted hunters will take
predators in the seasons provided, the divisions personnel will "systematically
take (kill, poison or capture) a specified number of predators in a selected geographic
area, division personnel will take predators [in unspecified amounts] in a selected
In the interview, Huffaker said Idahos Department of Fish and
Game staff will begin drafting a policy for Idaho. He said it will be a long process, and
it could be two years or more until the department has something to return to the
commission for review.
The hearing on the proposed predator plan was a preliminary one, and
all Fish and Game decisions go through a lengthy public hearing process before being voted
on by the commission, Huffaker explained.
He said the proposed state-wide policy, Selway predator reductions and
decrease in elk tags sold in the Selway area will be put through a gamut of statewide
public hearings in March.