IDAHO BILL ALLOWING KILLING OF 90 PERCENT OF STATE’S WOLVES AWAITS GOVERNOR’S DECISION TO SIGN
MAY 7, 2021As of today, Idaho Gov. Brad Little has not said whether he will sign a bill passed by the Idaho Legislature last week that would allow the killing of 90% of the state’s wolf population.
The bill would allow the hiring of private contractors to kill up to 90 percent of the state’s 1,500 wolves. In addition, Senate Bill 1211 would allow hunters and trappers to kill an unlimited number of wolves on a single hunting tag, run down wolves with ATVs and snowmobiles, and trap year-round on all private land across the state. The bill would also increase annual funds for wolf killing by the Idaho Wolf Depredation Control Board from $110,000 to $300,000.
The measure also allows, on private land, the killing of newborn pups and nursing mothers.
Bill proponents assert that wolves kill too many elk and livestock. Opponents say wolves kill less than a fraction of 1% of Idaho’s livestock annually, and elk population numbers are above management objectives in most of the state.
The Associated Press reported that nearly 30 retired state, federal and tribal wildlife managers sent a letter to Little asking him to veto the bill backed by agricultural interests.
The former workers at the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Bureau of Land Management, Nez Perce Tribe, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, University of Idaho and U.S. Forest Service say the methods for killing wolves allowed in the measure violate longstanding wildlife management practices and sportsmen ethics.
“Sportsmen and wildlife managers in Idaho and around the world have long opposed unethical practices like these, since they violate ‘fair-chase’ principles giving hunters an improper advantage over wildlife,” the group wrote in the letter, which was obtained by The Associated Press.
“If this horrific bill passes, Idaho could nearly wipe out its wolf population,” said Andrea Zaccardi, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Unless we can stop this from becoming law, decades of progress towards wolf recovery will be lost.”
If the bill is signed into law, the Center will be considering next steps to protect Idaho’s wolves and wildlife, which may include legal action, she said.
“Governor Little must veto this cruel and disastrous bill,” said Zaccardi. “Idaho’s state wildlife agency should be allowed to continue to manage wolves, not anti-wolf legislators dead set on exterminating the state’s wolves. We’re going to do everything we can to fight for the survival of wolves in Idaho.”
The retired wildlife managers also said the measure undermines the Idaho Fish and Game Commission because it removes wildlife management decisions from the commission and its experts, placing the decisions instead with politicians. The commission opposes the measure.
Finally, the letter states that the proposed law threatens an agreement Idaho officials made with the federal government to manage wolves in 2002.
Idaho’s 2002 wolf conservation and management plan calls for at least 150 wolves and 15 packs in Idaho. Backers of the measure have said the state is allowed to increase the killing of wolves to reach that level, said the Associated Press.
IDFG’s annual wolf population estimate documented the population was stable from 2019 to 2020, indicating that a similar number of wolves were added to the population and removed from the population between the two estimates. The 2020 estimate was 1,556 wolves, 10 fewer than the 2019 estimate of 1,566.
The estimates are made in August at a time of the year when the wolf population is near its annual maximum. Tracking human-caused mortality and adding estimated natural mortality through the year allows biologists to estimate the minimum population size, which occurs just before the addition of pups in March and April.
Human-caused mortality of wolves between the two August estimates was documented at 583 — 53 percent higher than 382 during the previous year. Documented human-caused mortality coupled with IDFG’s estimate of natural wolf mortality allows biologists to describe the annual population cycle and estimate the annual minimum population at approximately 900 wolves.
“It is important to be able to describe both the annual population cycle and longer-term population trend from year to year,” IDFG Director Ed Schriever said. “Idaho has a commitment to maintain a population of at least 150 wolves. The Idaho Fish and Game Commission is responsible for managing the state’s wolf population, and it has established an objective to manage for a smaller wolf population to reduce conflicts with livestock and managing the state’s wildlife to keep a healthy balance between predators and prey.
“The population estimate is a valuable tool to both measure the effectiveness of the commission’s management and provide the public with a clear understanding of that management,” he said. “Although the population was stable from 2019 to 2020, the estimate did measure lower wolf occupancy in areas where wolf mortality was highest.”
Gray wolves were delisted from the Endangered Species Act last year by the U.S. Department of the Interior, which said the population had sufficiently recovered to no longer warrant protection.