The Idaho state legislature passed a bill last week that could reduce the wolf population in the state by 90%. The legislation, which flew through the capitol in about 10 days and is now pending the signature of Republican Gov. Brad Little, allows for private contractors to help control the wolf population and removes many of the hunting regulations currently in place.
The legislation (SB1211) is supported by the agriculture industry but opposed by the Idaho Department of Fish & Game Commission and conservation groups.
Supporters argue that Idaho’s wolf population is already much larger than required by the state’s wolf management plan: while the plan only calls for 150 individuals and 15 packs, the total population currently stands at 1,500 wolves. Farmers, ranchers, and some hunters also point out that wolves prey on livestock and game species like elk and deer.
“We have areas of the state where the wolves are having a real detrimental impact on our wildlife,” said House Majority Leader Mike Moyle, one of the bill’s sponsors. “They are hurting the herds, elk and deer. This allows the Wolf (Depredation) Control Board and others to control them, also, which we have not done in the past.”
Opponents believe the bill’s provisions could endanger the wolf population in Idaho and revert control of the species to the federal government.
“The bill will waste millions of dollars of public funds on killing wolves, and threatens to ultimately return the species to the endangered species list and federal management,” the Western Watersheds Project and about a dozen other environmental groups said in a statement.
The Game & Fish Commission opposes the bill because it allows the legislature, rather than biologists and ecologists, to manage the wolf population in Idaho.
“While the Commission shares the sponsors’ stated objectives to manage the wolf population for lower levels of conflict and lower numbers, the proposed amendments…represent a significant downside to the state’s ability to manage our wildlife responsibly,” IDFG Director Ed Schriever testified before the Senate on behalf of the Commission. “Accordingly, the Commission has adopted the position to not support Senate Bill 1211.”
Wolf hunting and trapping are allowed in the state most of the year, but hunters must adhere to regulations governing the hunting methods used. SB1211 removes those provisions and allows hunters and trappers to use baiting, night vision, snares, poison, snowmobiles, off-road vehicles and more.
“Any method utilized for the take of any wild canine in Idaho shall be available for the taking of wolves,” the bill states.
The bill allows individuals to purchase an unlimited number of wolf tags and hunt wolves all year long. Currently, wolf tags cost $13 for residents and $31 for non-residents.
The legislation also allows the state to hire private contractors to kill wolves and increases the amount of money the Idaho Department of Fish and Game sends to the Idaho Wolf Depredation Control board from $110,000 to $300,000.