Livestock groups optimistic about proposed wolf management bill
By John O’Connell
BOISE — Livestock industry leaders like the chances of an advisory committee’s recommended bill to augment Idaho’s wolf management program through a combination of state, agricultural and sportsmen’s dollars.
The plan by the 12-member Fish and Game Advisory Committee — half the members appointed by the Idaho State Department of Agriculture and half by the Idaho Department of Fish and Game — would utilize $110,000 from sportsmen, $110,000 from agriculture and $400,000 from the state’s general fund.
Idaho contracts with USDA Wildlife Services to respond to wolf attacks on livestock and to help control wolf populations through both lethal and non-lethal means. The federal government’s contribution toward that effort declined by $700,000 last year, resulting in significant Wildlife Services field staff reductions.
The committee convened at Gov. Butch Otter’s request last session after he vetoed a bill that would have provided more wolf management funding through IDFG’s big game depredation fund, arguing sportsmen were not consulted.
Wyatt Prescott, executive vice president of the Idaho Cattle Association, believes his members will back the latest bill in an endorsement vote scheduled for Nov. 11 during the organization’s 100th Annual Convention and Trade Show in Sun Valley.
He said the committee’s recommendation improves upon a failed bill ICA supported last session, seeking to raise funds for Wildlife Services through a significant increase to the 5-cents-per-head fee on brand inspections producers already pay for predator control.
The new proposal would instead tie the cattle industry’s funding increase to brand registrations, which Prescott said would spread the burden out among a larger portion of the industry.
Prescott said administration would be “cleaner” for a brand registration fee — proposed at $5 per year and collected every five years — compared with brand inspections, which occur whenever cattle undergo a change in ownership. He acknowledged increasing the registration fee could lead producers to retire lesser-used brands.
Some state lawmakers have opposed past efforts to bolster Wildlife Services funding, arguing the federal government created the wolf problem and should be tasked with the solution.
“They’re sitting in a seat of luxury to be able to say that,” Prescott said. “Meanwhile, it’s having an adverse impact on cattle producers.”
If the proposal passes in the next session, the registration fee increase would take effect for cattle producers on July 1, 2014, and the sheep industry’s checkoff fee on wool for predator control would increase from 3 cents to 5 cents per pound by Jan. 1, 2015.
Stan Boyd, executive director of Idaho Wool Growers Association, said the Legislature granted his organization permission for an assessment increase two years ago.
“I think it’s going to happen this year in the Legislature,” Boyd said.
The IDFG board has already voted to support the plan, said Brad Compton, IDFG assistant chief of wildlife.
“The advisory committee very clearly stated for this to work, everybody has got to work together, and if you’re sawing legs off the stool, it’s going to tip it over,” Compton said.
Idaho Farm Bureau Federation spokesman John Thompson said his membership is scheduled to vote on the issue in December, and though some members believe the industry has to act as wolf packs proliferate, others still don’t like bailing out the federal government.
“It’s unfortunately everyone’s problem,” Thompson said.