Groups challenge Idaho’s recently enacted wolf legislation

Governor Brad Little recently signed a bill into law that will allow hunters, trappers and private contractors to kill up to 90 percent of Idaho’s wolf population
Updated: May. 12, 2021 at 8:21 AM MDT
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TWIN FALLS, Idaho (KMVT/KSVT) — Governor Brad Little recently signed a bill into law that will allow hunters, trappers and private contractors to kill up to 90 percent of Idaho’s wolf population. Some feel the legislation is needed and justified, but two groups are now working tirelessly to overturn the bill.

According to the State of Idaho, the wolf population has been holding steady for the last two years around 1,500. However, sportsmen groups and people in the agriculture industry would like to see that number closer to 150, due to wolf depredation of livestock and big game animals.

“The bill is based on a lot of misinformation in terms of how wolves are impacting the livestock industry, and how they are affecting the elk population,” said Andrea Zaccardi, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity.

She said according to USDA Wildlife Services, there were 102 confirmed wolf depredation cases in the fiscal year 2020. According to her research, there are more than 2.7 million cattle and sheep in the state.

“The two main points that were made in the legislature to get people to sign on to this bill is wolves are killing livestock in large numbers, which is blatantly false. Wolves kill less than one percent of the cattle on the landscape in Idaho,” said Zaccardi. “Elk population numbers are actually above objectives in almost the entire state of Idaho.”

Amanda Wight, who is a program manager of Wildlife Protection for the Humane Society of the United States, added wolves are not the main cause of livestock depredation for producers.

“Data from the USDA Wildlife Services shows that wildlife producers in Idaho lose about 66 times more cattle to causes like disease, respiratory issues, birthing problems, and bad weather, non-predator causes,” Wight said.

However, Rep. Laurie Lickley, who voted for the bill, said she and others think the wolf depredation numbers don’t tell the full story and are actually much higher. She said the legislation is needed to protect ranchers’ financial losses due to wolves.

“It is really difficult. Many of our ranching families have put a number on the financial loss to their operations from the wolves. Many are putting it in the thousands and thousands of dollars,” Lickley said.

Wight and Zaccardi additionally said they are against the bill because the decisions on how to manage the wolf population have been taken out of the hands of wildlife managers and are now in the hands of politicians. Both think the new law in general is truly unprecedented with the level of killing that it allows to cut down the wolf population.

“There are really no limits on how one can kill a wolf. They can shoot them. They can trap them. They can gas them in their dens. They can poison them,” said Zaccardi. “But also other wildlife and pets that are on the landscape could fall victim to these traps.”

Wight added wolves are good at managing their own population, and killing at increased levels them can cause more harm than good. She said by splitting packs, hunters and trappers can send juvenile wolves out to defend themselves, and that can lead to increased conflicts. Wright said the use of non-lethal deterrents is more effective and humane.

“There are non-lethal methods: livestock guardian dogs, range riding, using light devices like fox lights. Those are the methods that are going to have the most impact,” Wright said.

However, the representative from Jerome said, contrary to what the opposition thinks, non-lethal deterrents don’t work.

“You may get them out of there for a short period of time, but those animals are extremely wise, and I can tell you I know first-hand non-lethal methods in the state of Idaho do not work,” said Lickley. “They will be back or they will move on to the neighbor.”

Due to the recently enacted legislation, Wight said the Humane Society of the United States is looking to have wolves in Idaho relisted under the Endangered Species Act. She said the gray wolves in Idaho lost their federal Endangered Species Act Protection back in 2011. The final rule that was issued by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services listed three scenarios that could lead to a status review and potential relisting in the Northern Rocky Mountains. Two of those scenarios have to do with population numbers being too low, but the third is if there is a change to state law or management objectives that significantly increase a threat to the wolf population.

“So by allowing this excessive and unprecedented level of wolf killing this new law significantly increases the threat to the wolf population,” Wight said.

Zaccardi said the Center of Biological Diversity wrote a letter to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services asking them to rescind federal funding in Idaho for wildlife management. She said every year the federal government gives millions of dollars to fund wildlife management and that is based on a premise that projects should be surrounded in conservation, and there is a provision in the bill that says if legislation is passed that is contrary to wildlife conservation, that the state should be ineligible to receive federal funding going forward.

“This legislation is obviously not conservation-based,” said Zaccardi. “And this legislation is likely to bring wolves back under federal management in Idaho.”

Lickley said in 1995 the federal government reintroduced wolves back into the state of Idaho, and since then the state has been really challenged with managing them. She said a wolf’s gestation period is about 68 days, and they can populate extremely quickly.

“With our population numbers over 1,550, we had a record kill last year on wolves and that was up from the year before, and that has done nothing to dent our wolf population in the state of Idaho,” Lickley said.

She also said she doesn’t think the new legislation is out of bounds, and it has put forth a comprehensive plan to manage the wolf population.

“It really kind of looks at and identifies additional ways to reduce those numbers to a level within management range that Idaho can live with,” said Lickley.

The representative ended by saying that Idaho’s Wolf Management Plan is extremely clear. The state is bound to have 15 breeding pairs or 150 wolves in the state of Idaho.

“So when you have 1,500 wolves in the state of Idaho, to our ranching and sheep families across the state of Idaho, we got a challenge,” Lickley said.

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