The head of the Idaho Department of Fish and Game (IDFG) said Gov. Butch Otter will ask a top federal official to change Idaho’s wolf policy in an effort to bring back a public wolf hunt. One conservation advocate said the plan isn’t likely to work.
IDFG Director Cal Groen said the governor will send a letter to Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar asking to change Idaho’s wolf management agreement. If Salazar agrees, Groen said that could open the door to another state-sanctioned wolf hunt.
“I am sure the state will do that to try to allow hunting,” Groen said Monday during City Club of Boise event.
IDFG shelved this year’s wolf hunt due to a court decision in Montana earlier this month. A federal judge ruled that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was wrong in removing wolves in Idaho and Montana from the endangered species list, because the government incorrectly separated wolves in those two states and Wyoming’s wolves.
Groen called the ruling a technicality, and said Idaho has played by the rules in managing wolves and organizing its first hunt this past fall. He said Idaho hunters, who pay fees that fund IDFG, are becoming frustrated by wolves, and that the state wants to control wolf populations as it does with other predatory animals. Groen estimated that an appeal of the court decision would take two years.
Suzanne Asha Stone with the conservation group Defenders of Wildlife (DOW) said she doesn’t think the federal government would allow a wolf hunt while the animal is still listed as endangered. DOW is one of the groups that sued to block Idaho’s wolf hunt and limit IDFG’s power to manage wolves in Idaho.
Groen had critical words for DOW, saying it and other conservation groups have “moved the goalposts” over how many wolves need to be in Idaho to be sustainable. Groen said IDFG wants to use the wolf hunt to lower the number of wolves to around 500, and a federally-approved plan would let the state keep 15 breeding pairs of wolves in Idaho.
A wolf population of around 500 could be viable, Stone said, if more scientific testing could be done. Groen said the science behind wolves hasn’t changed since wolves were reintroduced to Idaho and Wyoming in the mid-1990’s, and that IDFG’s biologists are monitoring the animals.
Stone said IDFG is engaging in a shell game with population numbers, and that the department ultimately wants to go down to the 15 breeding pairs, which could be approximately 100 to 150 wolves total.
“We’re not each other’s enemy, and hopefully they’ll get to the point where they quit treating us that way,” Stone said.
DOW partnered with government wolf managers in paying ranchers for their losses to livestock due to wolf depredation, but is ending that program in Idaho next month. Groen again denounced the group. “That was a commitment these groups made,” he said. “Now they’re not following through with it.” DOW says federal money could cover the costs of injured or killed livestock. IDFG say that new program won’t have enough money for Idaho ranchers.
Wolves are starting to become too dense for the untamed parts of the state, Groen said. “They’re getting into areas they shouldn’t be,” he said. “They’re losing their wildness.”
IDFG State Wildlife Manager Jon Rachael said that wolves have attacked people in Alaska and Canada, but attacks remain extremely rare. “Wolves don’t rank very high as things to be afraid of, but it does happen,” he said.
Rachael also dismissed notions that the wolves captured in Canada and reintroduced into Idaho in 1995 and 1996 are larger than wolves that historically roamed across Idaho.
The federal government controls wolf management in Idaho, thanks to the court ruling, but Groen said state managers will continue to try to protect the interests of Idahoans affected by the predators. “We want to take the lead,” he said.