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Copyright © 2003 Express Publishing Inc.
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Friday — February 6, 2004


Committee bristles
at wolf plan

Express Staff

Idaho lawmakers sparred this week over a proposal from Gov. Dirk Kempthorne that would delineate management responsibilities over Idaho’s reintroduced gray wolves and give some management authority to the Nez Perce Tribe.

A Tuesday afternoon meeting of the House Resources Committee quickly ended when committee Chairman Bert Stevenson banged his gavel down to end the heated discussion.

Conservative members of the committee grilled Jim Caswell, the administrator of the Governor’s Office of Species Conservation, accusing him of negotiating with the Nez Perce Tribe behind closed doors.

The tribe is contracted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to oversee gray wolf recovery in Idaho. Wolves, listed as an endangered species, were reintroduced to Idaho in 1995 and 1996. There are estimated to be 370 wolves in the state.

Earlier this month, Caswell’s office released a memorandum of agreement, to be presented to the Nez Perce Tribe, outlining a collaborative process of future wolf management. The agreement would allow the state to begin sharing wolf management activities more quickly than if it waited for the animals to be removed from the Endangered Species Act. It would also allow the tribe to remain involved after the wolves are removed from the list.

Committee members smarted at the idea, partly because they said they were unaware of the agreement and partly because they said they believed it compromises the state’s post-listing position with the tribe.

During the Tuesday hearing, Rep. Lenore Barrett, R-Challis, who lives in one of the state’s hotbeds of wolf controversy, threw her pencil and argued with Stevenson at the end of the committee table.

During previous sessions, Barrett suggested the only kind of wolf management Idaho should entertain is extermination. Barrett was angry with Caswell’s work, pointing to a legislative statement passed in 2001 that called for the unequivocal removal of wolves from the state.

Barrett said Caswell’s office was given authority to "talk or consult" with the tribes and federal government.

"That’s not the same as making an agreement with them," she said.

Republican Rep. Lawerence Denney of Midvale, the House majority leader, tried to ease the tension.

"You’re hearing the frustration of the committee," he said. "Nobody anticipated an expanded role for the tribes. And this was a secret until about a week ago."

Barrett, frustrated after 90 minutes of questioning, intended to ask the committee for a vote against the agreement.

Stevenson said he suspected something was amiss when he noticed Barrett having pages find fellow conservative members to bring them back to the hearing room for a vote. Before she was able to ask for the vote, Stevenson gaveled the meeting closed. Barrett threw her pencil.

"You didn’t allow me to have a say," protested loudly.

"I don’t allow you to make that kind of motion," Stevenson said. "I expected the courtesy of you telling me what the game plan was."

Caswell said members of the committee have a misconception that the tribe would be out of the wolf management business after the species is removed for the ESA. Rather, the tribe would undoubtedly be a part of the management plan for years to come whether or not the state ultimately signs the agreement, he said.


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