Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Will payments for wolf losses continue?

Cattle group ponders decline in federal depredation dollars

Express Staff Writer

Idaho ranchers, from left, Brad Johnson, Scott Kesl and Carl Ellsworth wait for a discussion of endangered species and public lands issues to begin at the Sun Valley Inn on Monday. Photo by Willy Cook

Idaho ranchers gathered in Sun Valley this week worry that they'll lose federal payouts for wolf attacks on their herds.

The payments come through Idaho Governor's Office of Species Conservation, led by Nate Fisher. The agency doles out $100,000 a year to cattle and sheep producers whose herds have been hit by wolves. Funding for the program comes from the federal government, which under the direction of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was responsible for the reintroduction effort.

But due to changes that are about to sweep through Washington, D.C., on the heels of the Nov. 4 election Idaho ranchers fear they may lose these federal payments.

On Tuesday, several hundred ranchers from around the state gathered at the Sun Valley Inn as part of the Idaho Cattle Association's annual convention to discuss what the future may hold for the compensation program they consider so crucial. Cattle producers fear the Democrats' strengthened hand in Washington as well as the possible hand-over of wolf management duties to Idaho, Wyoming and Montana may spell the end of the federal dollars.

To file a claim with the state's wolf depredation compensation program, cattle and sheep producers must submit information proving documented depredations or confirmed wolf presence in the area in question. For a confirmed sighting to be valid, it needs to be recorded by staff from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture's Wildlife Services or employees of the Nez Perce Tribe's wolf monitoring group.

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A committee reviews the claims from ranchers and then recommends if a payment should be made.

Fisher said his department is concerned that the Obama administration may seek to cut off those funds if and when gray wolves in the northern Rockies region are delisted from the federal Endangered Species Act. He said they'll be working to convince them to continue those payments.

"We feel there's an obligation," he said.

Of course the looming question is whether the Fish and Wildlife Service will move successfully to delist wolves in the final days of the Bush administration.

Idaho Department of Fish and Game Deputy Director Jim Unsworth said that at best, it's an "optimistic view" that the agency will complete its delisting push by Jan. 19, the day before President-elect Barack Obama is sworn into office.

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