A trailer bill on a federal budget resolution will remove wolves from federal protection and return them to state management, paving the way for a possible public wolf hunt this year.
"We're optimistic," said Jon Hanian, spokesman for Gov. Butch Otter, regarding whether Idahoans will be able to take aim at the state's estimated 709 wolves sometime this fall.
Otter reluctantly relinquished state control over wolves last October, claiming the federal government was impinging on the state's ability to manage its wildlife as guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.
Hanian said now that wolves have been removed from protection under the Endangered Species Act, the governor is working with Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar to determine exactly what the trailer bill means for Idaho.
The provision, crafted by Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, requires the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to reissue its 2009 ruling that delisted wolves from the Endangered Species Act, and it prohibits legal challenges to that action. The ruling specifically removed protections from wolves in all of Idaho and Montana, as well as portions of eastern Washington, eastern Oregon and northern Utah.
This is the first time Congress has voted to remove a species from protections afforded by the Endangered Species Act, a decision normally made by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service after scientific review.
Simpson and other proponents of the rider say it's necessary because wolves are recovered, far surpassing the original goals of 150 wolves per state. But conservationists say the original goals are not scientifically sound, and that wolves won't remain recovered for long if hunting is permitted again.
"People keep confusing the number that's out there with the number that would be protected," said Suzanne Stone, spokeswoman for wildlife advocacy group Defenders of Wildlife.
Populations could be reduced to as few as 150 wolves per state under the most recent ruling, which Stone said was biologically unsustainable.
Andrew Wetzler, wildlife program manager for the Natural Resources Defense Council, said the rider would not allow states to completely eliminate wolves.
"The Fish and Wildlife Service could decide at a later date that wolves need more protection," Wetzler said. "It doesn't end all endangered species protections for all wolves forever."
But Stone said this safety net might not be enough. While she admitted that it's true the service could choose to relist wolves if petitioned by conservation groups, she said it was extraordinarily unlikely.
"[The species] could be relisted if the states try to wipe out all wolves," she said. "But there are literally hundreds of species sitting there waiting for listing."
For the moment, wolves remain under federal protection until Salazar reissues the 2009 rule, an action he must take within 60 days of the bill's signing.
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Otter considers wolf 'disaster'
Gov. Butch Otter is expected to act on a state wolf bill sometime today, according to his staff. "He does have some concerns about it," said Jon Hanian, spokesman for the governor. However, Hanian said the governor had not yet decided how to act on the bill. Idaho lawmakers voted earlier this month 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. The governor said he was waiting on the results of national legislation before dealing with Idaho's "wolf disaster" bill. He said in a statement earlier this month that he's concerned about the bill's implications on the state's separation of powers. "It is usually not a prerogative, if you will, of the Legislature to declare an emergency," he said. "That is up to the governor." However, the bill gives the Legislature that power in dealing with wolves.