Feb. 18–BOISE — A bill requesting $2 million to kill up to 500 Idaho wolves now moves to the House floor, despite protests from lawmakers and wolf activists that the money could be better spent on education.
“This is not a wolf extermination bill,” said the bill’s co-sponsor state Sen. Bert Brackett, R-Rogerson, during the bill’s full hearing Thursday in front of the House Resources and Conservation Committee. “The top priority is to continue the delisted status of wolves.”
The committee passed the bill 14-4 after discussing the bill for more than an hour and listening to almost two hours of testimony.
The proposed legislation — which includes a sunset clause to retire in 2019 — calls for a five-member oversight board made up of directors from the state’s Department of Fish and Game and Department of Agriculture as well representatives from livestock industry, public at large and sportsmen.
The bill requests $2 million of one-time appropriation, with the livestock industry and hunting license fees contributing $110,000 each year. The money will only be spent on lethal action to control wolves.
“If I didn’t know that the federal government was essentially bankrupt, I would be angry enough to go after the federal government for this,” said state Rep. JoAn Wood, R-Rigby. “In the first place, we never wanted our sportsmen or our livestock people ever have to pay for shoving those wolves down our throat.”
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.
Hunters, ranchers and wolf activists packed the committee room, filling every seat, standing up against the walls and spilling into an overflow room. Nearly 50 people signed up to speak, with testimony split 50-50 on those who opposed and favored the bill.
“Lethal control is ineffective and it’s expensive,” said Suzanne Stone with the Defenders of Wildlife. “Simply killing wolves does not address the issue.”
Stone said lawmakers should support non-lethal options like providing ranchers and farmers with blinking flashlights to scare away wolves at night.
Bill Chisholm, of Buhl, said lawmakers should kill the bill and instead find a better wolf management goal.
“This bill sounds like it’s a funding mechanism for war on wolves,” Chisholm said. “I think we need to go back to square one.”
Other opponents of the bill asked that the money be spent on education.
Several of the ranchers who showed up to testify said the bill was needed to protect their livestock.
“In order to raise beef and feed the rest of the country, this is an issue that must be addressed,” said Scott Rigby of Rexburg. “We cannot keep kicking the can down the road.”
Matt Thompson, who ranches in Bonneville County, said 40 calves were killed by wolves. Federal officials were soon called onto his property, Thompson said, where they killed seven wolves.
The problem stopped but the experience took a toll on him and his family, Thompson said.
“Not only financially but it was emotionally damaging to see those wolf kills,” Thompson said, speaking in favor of the bill.
Lawmakers spent most of their discussion on the merits of setting aside $2 million when Idaho already has a predator control board.
Idaho has already spent millions over the past 10 years to kill wolves but over the past 10 years, the amount of depredation has gone up even though wolf deaths are also up, said state Rep. Steven Miller, R-Fairfield, who was the only Republican to vote against the bill.
“My concern is that we get to the end of five years and we have more depredations and more wolves,” Miller said. “I don’t see an end game in this. … How do we ever get to where we want to be?”
“I don’t know if there is an end game,” Brackett said. “Wolves are part of the landscape in Idaho now.”
State Rep. Ilana Rubel, D-Boise, said she questioned if the state’s limited funds should be spent on killing wolves rather than Idaho’s education system, which compares poorly to other states.
“We only have one pot of money,” said state Rep. Ilana Rubel, D-Boise. “If we have a surplus this year, is this the best way to spend that surplus?”
Nearing the end of the discussion, state Rep. Ken Andrus, R-Lava Hot Springs, said he didn’t think there would ever be an end to Idaho’s wolf debate.
“I would rather see this money go toward building a predator-type fence around Yellowstone National and have a predator fence clear around the park,” Andrus said. “Put the wolves in there and let the nature lovers, and the people who love wolves, let them do their thing. And I don’t care what happens.”