Feb. 18–BOISE — Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter’s proposed $2 million fund to kill as many as 500 wolves barely passed its preliminary vetting Monday by the House Resources and Conservation Committee.
Committee members quizzed sponsors state Sen. Bert Brackett, R-Rogerson, and Rep. Marc Gibbs, R-Grace, on the effectiveness of creating a separate fund — which would come with a five-member oversight board — when the state already funds a predator damage board.
Bracket and Gibbs responded that the proposed expense would keep the focus on wolves instead of splitting resources on the state’s Animal Damage Control Board.
Federal support to control wolves will stop in 2016, Brackett said. In Fiscal Year 2013, the federal government provided $650,000 of the state’s $1.4 million wolf management budget.
If the bill passes, the $2 million would be a one-time appropriation with the livestock industry and hunting license fees contributing $110,000 each year.
“The priority of this whole effort is to keep the wolves delisted,” Brackett said.
Idaho’s wolves were taken off the endangered species list in 2011. Today, the state’s wolf population is estimated to be around 680 animals, according to the Idaho Department of Fish and Game. If it falls below 150, the species will be once more classified as endangered by federal regulators.
The committee repeatedly questioned the need for two boards dedicated to killing predator animals that cause damage to livestock or Idaho’s elk population.
“How is this a more cost-effective approach to start a new board than to put a little more money into Idaho Fish and Game?” asked state Rep. Illan Rubel, D-Boise.
Gibbs countered that a separate board allows the state to be flexible.
The new wolf fund would not pay for livestock killed by wolves but to kill wolves that cause damage, Gibbs said.
“There are no new ways to control wolves being projected or being created by this bill,” Gibbs said. “They are simply subject to the tools we have today, which is sport hunting, trapping and aerial gunning.”
The committee voted 9-8 to move the legislation forward, with the chairman initially declaring the bill failed before Gibbs speaking out he hadn’t voted and provided the “yes” needed for the bill to be printed.
This is the second consecutive year lawmakers have tried to secure funding dedicated wolf control. Last year, Otter vetoed a bill that would have diverted money from Fish and Game to a wolf management fund. The bill was sponsored by Rep. Judy Boyle, R-Midvale, who voted against Brackett’s and Gibbs’ proposal.
Boyle said committee recommendations from the summer of 2013 supported added money to the Animal Damage Control Board for wolf damage.
“I feel like this is a breach of contract of what was promised in that committee,” she said.
Brackett said that while a committee may have submitted recommendations, their bill was based on what the governor wanted.
Idaho’s wolf control management strategies have received criticisms recently after Fish and Game hired a trapper for the first time to kill two packs in the Middle Fork of the Salmon River.
Wolf activists also spoke out against Idaho’s elk management plan during a recent public hearing updating the document.