- Associated Press - Monday, January 27, 2014

BOISE, Idaho (AP) - Republicans promoting Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter’s proposed $2 million taxpayer-financed fund to kill wolves hope the cash helps reduce Idaho’s population of these canine predators by more than 500 animals, to just 150 wolves in 15 packs.

Rep. Marc Gibbs of Grace and Sen. Bert Brackett of Rogerson on Monday told the House Resources and Conservation Committee the money set aside with Otter’s proposal, along with smaller contributions from the Idaho Department of Fish and Game and livestock producers, will bolster Idaho’s predator arsenal and help it reach a 150-wolf goal.

Idaho now has about 680 wolves, according to Fish and Game estimates in 2012.

Even with these proposed killings, Brackett says the priority remains keeping wolves from returning to federal Endangered Species Act protections that were lifted by an act of Congress in 2011. He said provided Idaho still has 150 wolves - the minimum required in a 2002 wolf management plan approved by the Idaho Legislature - the state will have a good argument should somebody file a lawsuit seeking to return the state’s wolves to federal control.

“As long as we’re within it, we still may be sued,” Brackett told the House panel. “But we’ll have a defensible line of defense.”

Wolves were re-introduced to Idaho - as well as Montana and Wyoming - in the mid-1990s after they were virtually wiped out in the West by the 1970s.

Since then, they’ve been blamed by ranchers for killing too many livestock, by hunters for killing too many elk - and Otter, for being part of a federal overreach in which he contends the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service re-introduced the species over Idaho’s objections.

However, wildlife advocates Monday say the levels discussed at the House meeting, if the state were to follow through, are so low they’d likely automatically trigger renewed scrutiny by the federal government over whether wolves in Idaho deserve to be relisted.

“This is just another example of Idaho’s unwillingness to manage wolves as a wildlife species,” said Jonathan Proctor, a Defenders of Wildlife spokesman in Denver. “They’re singling out wolves for special persecution. The majority of Idahoans expect state managers to manage all wildlife appropriately and not exterminate them to the bare minimum they think they can get away with.”

In addition to concerns the control fund is a heavy-handed solution, some members of the House committee Monday said its $2 million price tag seemed far too expensive.

“The goal is to kill 500 wolves,” said Rep. Ilana Rubel, D-Boise. “That’s $4,000 per wolf.”

The proposal passed Monday’s introduction hearing on a narrow margin, 9-8. It now gets a full hearing in coming weeks.

In addition to Rubel’s fiscal objections, some Republicans voted no on the measure, arguing it unnecessarily creates a completely new board to manage the money.

Rep. Judy Boyle, R-Midvale and a fan of reducing Idaho’s wolf numbers, said Idaho should use its existing Animal Damage Control board, not create a fresh wolf-control bureaucracy.

“There’s no need for it,” Boyle said. “It’s a total waste of money.”

In response, Gibbs argued a new board was important, since its focus would be killing wolves, not starlings, coyotes, or other animals considered pests by Idaho’s livestock industry. The five-person wolf control board would include directors of the Idaho Department of Agriculture and Fish and Game, a hunter and livestock industry representative, and a member of the general public, according to the bill.

“By having a new board,” Gibbs said, “it gives them the ability to put the pressure where it’ll do the most good.”

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