Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Idaho’s wolf policies need to change course


By GARRICK DUTCHER

    Year after year, Idaho demonstrates its intolerance for wolves. Idaho Department of Fish and Game, while tasked with preserving all of Idaho’s wildlife, continues to ratchet up hunting, trapping and snaring pressure on Idaho’s diminishing wolf population. Around 600 wolves live in Idaho, which is also home to 83 times more coyotes, 33 times more black bears and 4-5 times more mountain lions than wolves. All these species eat other animals to survive and all sometimes attack livestock. But Idaho reserves its special treatment for wolves alone.
    Records show, Idaho’s wolf population has fallen every year since 2009. Every year wolves have been under state management, Idaho has expanded, extended and loosened wolf hunting and trapping regulations. It’s an indefensible notion that “adequate regulatory mechanisms” are in place, as mandated by the Endangered Species Act for the oversight period under state management.  
    Idaho claimed it would manage wolves like any other species. No Idaho wildlife management authority can honestly defend this position.


As fewer people take up hunting, those who enjoy
Idaho’s nature in a non-consumptive way steadily increase.



    Actions by Gov. Butch Otter and the state Legislature indicate they believe IDFG isn’t effective enough in killing wolves. The Wolf Control Board bill, “the wolf kill bill,” was a priority the governor chose for his State of the State address in January. Now, $400,000 taxpayer dollars for killing wolves is likely to be a recurring expense. Legislative sponsors and supporters repeatedly stated their intent to reduce Idaho’s wolf population to 150 wolves and 15 breeding pairs, the federal minimum.
    As the state of Idaho and IDFG reach to further extremes to kill more and more wolves, these actions aren’t going unnoticed.
    Far beyond the scope of wildlife management, these practices are quickly giving a black eye to Idaho’s reputation across the country. Idaho is not an island. It does not exist in a vacuum. If the state walks far enough out on a limb, the limb will break, bringing Idaho back to earth under an increasingly focused spotlight.
    As fewer people take up hunting, those who enjoy Idaho’s nature in a non-consumptive way steadily increase. IDFG’s one-dimensional revenue stream from hunting and fishing licenses and tag sales cannot keep pace with fiscal challenges. It’s time to realign economic realities with income-generating constituencies.
    Recognizing the increasing difficulty of remaining solvent with growing bills, Director Virgil Moore commendably organized the 2012 IDFG Wildlife Summit to modernize the agency. Unfortunately, necessary innovations are still not forthcoming. Instead, the agency continues pursuing scientifically unsupportable programs, like excessive and expensive lethal wolf removal and expanded trapping.
    Recently, IDFG conducted its sixth costly wolf control action in the Lolo, killing 23 wolves from a helicopter, to artificially bolster a declining elk herd, even though IDFG has acknowledged the decline was precipitated by dramatic changes to habitat and vegetation that support elk.
    This spring, IDFG hired a professional hunter/trapper to kill wolf packs in the same designated wilderness where wolves were originally reintroduced. IDFG has also declared another goal—reducing wolf populations by 60 percent in the heart of the same wilderness.
    Remarkably, as this continues, Idaho’s statewide elk population of 107,000 has been growing since 2010. Hunters can coexist with wolves while maintaining a robust hunting tradition. Wyoming, with the third largest wolf population in the West, reported their three largest elk harvests on record in the past four years, with 45 percent success in 2013.
    Efforts to kill wolves in Idaho’s most pristine landscapes, especially in designated wilderness—where wolves belong—will never yield the long-term results the agency desires. Idaho continues burning precious dollars on failing programs, while gaining increasingly widespread negative publicity as the black sheep of the nation. For the sake of our beautiful state and all its wildlife, let’s hope that Idaho soon corrects course.  


    Garrick Dutcher is the program director for the Idaho-based, national nonprofit organization Living with Wolves.




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