State lawmakers aim to cut wolf numbers drastically
FRISCO — Just a few years after Congress removed endangered species protection for wolves in Idaho, state lawmakers seem hellbent on driving the predators back to brink of extirpation.
The Idaho Legislature this week created a wolf depredation control board controlled by anti-wildlife interests. The board will administer a $400,000 fund set up explicitly to kill wolves. Conservation advocates say the new law could result in the slaughter of 500 wolves, leaving just 150 in the state.
The federal government handed over wolf management authority a few years ago on the premise that state governments in Idaho and Montana would maintain biologically healthy populations. Now, wildlife advocates are crying foul, claiming the Idaho plan could push wolf numbers below sustainable threshold levels. Since 2011, more than 1,500 wolves have been killed in the two states.
The board will be made up of representatives of the agricultural, livestock and hunting communities. The bill does not require any members of the board to represent the wolf conservation community.
“Political leaders in Idaho would love nothing more than to eradicate Idaho’s wolves and return to a century-old mindset where big predators are viewed as evil and expendable,” said Amaroq Weiss, West Coast wolf organizer at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The new state wolf board, sadly, reflects that attitude. The legislature couldn’t even bring itself to put a single conservationist on the board, so the outcome is predictable: Many more wolves will die.”
The bill is the latest in a series of anti-wolf actions in Idaho that could ultimately backfire and force the return Endangered Species Act protections for gray wolves in the northern Rocky Mountains.
According to the Center for Biological Diversity, Idaho has broken other promises, including a commitment to maintain refugia for wolves in remote areas and wilderness. The Idaho Department of Fish and Game sent a hunter-trapper into the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness this winter to eliminate two wolf packs.
It recently announced a new predator-management plan designed to kill 60 percent of the wolf population in the Middle Fork area over the next several years, and contracted with USDA’s Wildlife Services to gun down 23 wolves in the Lolo management zone in February.
“Reducing these wolf populations to below even the absolute bare minimum sets a dangerous precedent and ensures that true wolf recovery will be little more than a pipedream in Idaho,” Weiss said.
In combination with mortality from annual hunting and trapping seasons, the wolf population in Idaho is under serious threat of dropping near — or even below — minimal recovery levels that Idaho promised to maintain when wolves in the northern Rockies lost federal protections in 2011. The sponsor of H.B. 470, Rep. Marc Gibbs (R-Dist. 32), says the intent of the bill is to reduce Idaho’s wolf population to as few as 10 packs.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is required by its own delisting criteria to review the population if changes in Idaho law or management objectives significantly increase the threat to the population. It must then decide whether to reinstate federal Endangered Species Act protections or extend the post-delisting period for federal oversight.