Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Idaho wolves in lawmakers’ sights

Proposals aim to poke holes in federal protections

Express Staff Writer

Idaho wolves are in the crosshairs as efforts to control and delist the predators escalate on the federal and state levels.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was the first to take aim last week, publishing a draft environmental impact statement on Thursday that proposed allowing Idaho to reduce the Lolo wolf population—in north-central Idaho—by more than half.

The plan was originally proposed by the state in September and was further revised in December to compensate for wolves being relisted under the Endangered Species Act by U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy.

If approved by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the management plan would allow the killing of "an initial minimum removal of 40 to 50 wolves" during the first year.

The Lolo Zone is home to almost 80 wolves, which, according to an ongoing Idaho Department of Fish and Game study, is reducing elk populations in the region. According to the agency, elk are also facing shrinking habitat in the area, and wolves are only exacerbating the issue.

Wolves would be controlled by federal officials shooting from aircraft or on the ground, or by using leghold traps and snares. A public hunt would not be an option for reducing the Lolo wolf population, the plan states.

The Fish and Wildlife Service must approve a final EIS before the state's plan would go into effect.

Idaho Rep. Phil Hart, R-Athol, was the next to place a target on gray wolves. Hart unveiled legislation on Friday that would prohibit the state from investigating, arresting or prosecuting any person who kills a gray wolf in Idaho.

The bill would also prohibit state law enforcement agents from cooperating with federal officials who are investigating such illegal killings. Any agents convicted of aiding the federal government would face a fine of $500 for a first-time violation.

The legislation was presented in the House Resources and Conservation Committee. However, according to The Associated Press, the bill will stay in committee without a vote due to members' concerns that it could harm ongoing negotiations over the status of gray wolves.

Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, was the third official to tackle the wolf issue recently, adding a provision to the 2011 Continuing Resolution that would delist wolves in Idaho and Montana.

Simpson has co-sponsored two bills in the House that address wolf delisting, but spokeswoman Nikki Watts said the continuing resolution provided another opportunity.

If the continuing resolution is approved with the provision still attached, management of gray wolves would revert to the states from the federal government.

"We're optimistic that the provision will stay in the bill," Watts said. "It's all an attempt to correct a problem."

Katherine Wutz:

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