Friday, April 8, 2011

A day of reckoning’

Legislature declares gray wolf emergency


By KATHERINE WUTZ
Express Staff Writer

Idaho lawmakers voted Wednesday to approve a bill that would allow Gov. Butch Otter to enlist local law enforcement to kill wolves he feels are endangering humans, livestock or wildlife.

"This is a day of reckoning," said Scott Rockholm, a resident of Sandpoint and one of about a dozen Idahoans who testified in favor of the bill in front of a Senate committee.

The committee passed the bill onto the Senate floor, where it was heard and passed by an overwhelming majority just two hours after leaving committee. As of press time Thursday, it was headed to Gov. Butch Otter's desk for signature.

The bill declares a state of emergency and claims that wolves threaten the life, liberty and happiness ensured to all Idaho residents by the state and federal Constitutions.

Proponents say that wolves, referred to in the bill as "Canadian Gray wolves," threaten their property, health and safety. The use of the word "Canadian" reasserts anti-wolf sentiment that the wolves are a non-native species foisted on the state by the federal government.

Anti-wolf activist Ron Gillett, a resident of Stanley, testified before the Senate Resources and Environment Committee on Tuesday that wolves have killed many of the elk in his area. He said he frequently gets calls from people canceling reservations for his guest cabins because they are scared of the wolves.

"These Canadian gray wolves have put a lien on our property," he said. "For rural Idaho to survive economically, we must have healthy and well-managed game herds."

Karen Calisterio, a resident of the town of Tensed in northern Idaho, also testified for the bill, saying wolves have "invaded" her property. Calisterio said she was trapped in her driveway for 18 minutes by four "aggressive" wolves.

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"I cannot convey to you the horror of that event," she said. "The government's wolves have free rein of my property and I do not."

But wolf advocates say that fear of wolves is based on misinformation and myths perpetuated by ranchers. Suzanne Stone, Northern Rockies representative for Defenders of Wildlife, said Calisterio is a victim, but not of wolves.

"She's a victim of misinformation," Stone said in a Thursday interview. "She clearly thought that the presence of wolves was a danger to her. [But] wolves are less dangerous than most wildlife we've lived with for generations."

There have been no wolf attacks on humans in Idaho since the animals were reintroduced in 1995, though supporters of the bill cited perceived threats to their children as well as family pets and livestock.

"I think we are really fortunate that the pictures we saw today were of animals and not people," said testifier John Walters, citing a presentation given before public testimony that showed photos of livestock that had been killed or injured by wolves.

The bill's opponents argued that it is poorly written, violates the state Constitution and would compromise any possible progress toward getting Idaho wolves off the federal endangered species list.

"I want this to be a good process that is legal and constitutional," said Sen. Michelle Stennett, D-Ketchum. "I have a lot of concerns with this bill."

Stennett voted against the bill, as did Sen. Elliot Werk, D-Boise. Werk said the bill violates state code regarding separation of powers, as it requires the governor to take orders from the Legislature.

Stone said she is uncertain what implications this bill would have for wolves or for a pending settlement on wolf management through a U.S. District Court. However, she said she is concerned about the way it reflects on the Legislature.

"It calls into questions their other decisions, that they are willing to declare an emergency over something that is clearly not one," she said. "It seems like a huge waste of time."

Katherine Wutz: kwutz@mtexpress.com




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