When the office of Idaho Governor Brad Little (right) first prepared a statement on a controversial bill to step up efforts to kill and trap wolves earlier this year, his staff included an assurance: “Idaho has no interest in decimating our wolf population in the state.” He also acknowledged that “the management of wolves is a polarizing and emotional subject for many.”
But they ultimately removed those lines from the statement, according to documents obtained by HuffPost through public document requests. Instead, the governor’s office praised the bill for attempting to “resolve conflicts that negatively impact our wildlife populations and seriously harm Idaho’s agricultural industry.” Little signed the bill on May 6.
Critics called Idaho’s bill a “wolf decimation” plan, accusing its Republican champions in the state legislature and ranching industry of orchestrating a slaughter large enough to put animals back on the endangered species list. That the governor’s office considered minimizing these concerns, but ultimately failed to do so, is certainly not a good sign for those seeking to protect wolves.
“It’s disappointing,” Andrea Zaccardi, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, told HuffPost. “It just shows that the governor is determined to appease special interests, such as the ranching industry, to the detriment of those who value the state’s native wolves and their role in creating and maintaining ecosystems. healthy. ”
The Idaho governor’s office did not respond to requests for comment.
The post adds a new dimension to the debate over what the new law will mean for Idaho’s most controversial predator.
the bill garnered widespread attention, with opponents claiming it would result in the deaths of 90% of the state’s 1,500 gray wolves, a figure frequently cited in reports. The bill removes restrictions on the state’s already very liberal hunting and trapping regulations and allows people to contract third parties to kill wolves. It also allows wolf hunting at night and in a motor vehicle, and removes the limit on the number of hunters and trappers can buy wolf tags.
The state’s agricultural lobby defended the bill, saying the increase in wolf numbers has hampered pastoralists. This reflects long-standing tensions over wolf management in the West, pitting ranchers against environmental groups who want wolves re-established in their former range. Montana has passed similar legislation this year.
Opponents say the changes will result in a cull that will reduce the number of wolves to the bare minimum specified in the state’s management plan – around 150 wolves.
But the Idaho bill says nothing about the percentage of wolves to be killed. And state officials, including those who supported the bill, are strongly discouraged from killing so many.
Western states have fought long legal battles to take over the management of wolves, after the US Fish and Wildlife Service reintroduced them in 1995. A 90% cull would likely push Idaho’s wolves back into federal protection into under the Endangered Species Act.
Even though Idaho officials wanted to kill so many wolves, it’s not clear they could. Herders can already kill wolves that threaten livestock without a hunting tag or trapping license. Before the bill was passed, anyone could buy up to 15 wolf hunters at $ 13.50 apiece, plus 15 more to trap wolves.
But wolves are intelligent predators who regularly travel more than 20 miles a day, often at night. The vast majority of people who try to hunt or trap one fail.
The result is that the wolf population has continued to grow. Hunters and trappers killed a record 583 wolves last year, according to Idaho Fish and Game Department spokesman Roger Phillips. That number, however, is less than the 40% mortality needed to control the population, he said.
“It was an exaggeration at best to say that the state of Idaho’s goal is to wipe out 90% of wolves,” Phillips said. “We manage them like we do with mountain lions and black bears. We don’t have a specific number that we’re targeting with any of our predators.
While the practical impacts of the new law remain to be seen, lawmakers have drawn criticism for wresting wolf management from state wildlife officials. Thirty former wildlife managers wrote a letter in April to Little asking him to veto the law. Idaho Fish and Game Director Ed Schriever opposed the bill in an April 22 letter saying that state law “expressly reflects that it is inconvenient and impractical for the legislature to ‘administer Idaho’s wildlife policy’.
Priority to breeding
In the United States, wildlife is considered a public trust, managed primarily by public bodies. However, it is common for lawmakers in conservative states with large herding lobbies to push laws that target predators, boost private hunting operations, or blur the lines between wildlife and livestock. States with strong liberal constituencies regularly manage wildlife through plebiscites that tend to favor predators like black bears, pumas, or wolves.
Up to 2 million gray wolves lived in most of the United States before European settlement. Their numbers first plunged in the late 19th century, when commercial hunters decimated populations of deer, elk and wild buffalo preyed upon by wolves.
In the early part of the 20th century, as herding spread to the West, the federal government carried out poisoning campaigns against wolves and other predators to protect livestock.
This legacy of conflict between wolves and ranchers lives on in states like Idaho, where cattle outnumber the state’s 1.7 million humans. The breeders keep an additional 200,000 sheep there. Little, the governor, comes from a family of breeders.
Opponents of the wolf bill say ranchers overestimate the toll predators take on livestock, often pointing to depredation statistics. The USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection has investigated some 205 suspected wolf depredations over the past year, confirming about half of them, according to its director of wildlife services. Idaho, Jared Hedelius. This is well under a tenth of a percent of the state’s cattle and sheep combined. Investigations into depredations have decreased compared to the previous year.
“These are not opinions,” Hedelius said. “These are real numbers.”
But ranchers say the biggest impact on their bottom line does not come from the deaths of the cattle, but from the wolves that push the herds, causing them to exercise more, gain weight more slowly and reduce fertility. because stressed animals more often have miscarriages.
“We have members telling me that their Forest Service lands were once their most productive lots, and now they are the least,” said Chyla Wilson, spokesperson for the Federation of Idaho Agriculture Bureau. “It’s not just about killing, it’s those other factors. There are just too many wolves.
Although Hedelius couldn’t quantify the problem, he said he heard the same concern from ranchers. “A lot of farmers would rather see 10 dead lambs than 1,000 of them underweight,” he said. “The concern is very real.
Wolf advocates would like the state to invest in non-lethal deterrents instead of trying to reduce animal numbers. Some methods, such as electric fencing, are effective for animals that cluster together, such as flocks of sheep, but less so for cattle scattered over large landscapes. The best deterrent is greater human presence in the landscape, as North American predators universally fear humans, Hedelius said.
Another round of legal backlash
Idaho’s legislation could backfire on us. A coalition of more than 50 environmental and animal rights groups filed a petition last month asking the US Fish and Wildlife Service to reclassify gray wolves in the Northern Rockies as endangered under of the Endangered Species Act. The 2009 Gray Wolf Suppression Rule in the region that includes Idaho requires the agency to review the status of wolves if a change in law or state management would significantly threaten the animal population. .
Some of the same groups have called on the US Forest Service to ban wolf hunting in its Idaho wilderness, citing the legalization of contract wolf killing. Federal law restricts commercial activities in designated wilderness areas.
The US Fish and Wildlife Service has not taken a position on the Idaho wolf law. He has three months to respond to the petition.
Like Idaho’s wildlife officials, wolf advocates do not target a specific target population.
“You can’t quantify what a healthy population is,” Zaccardi said. “A healthy population means wolves are connected across much of their historic range. “
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