Wolf recovery in the Northern Rocky Mountains is one of the greatest success stories in the history of the Endangered Species Act — that is, unless you live here. In a period of time spanning less than 20 years, our federal government led by then Secretary of Interior Bruce Babbitt and President Bill Clinton, transplanted, recovered and recently pulled nearly a million dollars in funding for wolf management activities.
In their wake, Idaho residents get to pick up the tab for damages caused by a growing population of the most cunning predators in the forest.
We’re betting Idaho Gov. Butch Otter would like to deliver a bill and a solid boot to the rear ends of those responsible for this federal government “gift” that has manifested itself into an unfunded mandate. However, being the pragmatic leader he is, Gov. Otter formed a task force made up of state wildlife managers, livestock operators and sportsmen’s representatives to find a solution. Later this winter our state legislators will have the dubious pleasure of deliberating over a bill that will generate money from both state and private sources to fill in the void left for us by federal officials who think they know what’s best for Idaho.
Those working on the task force assigned to find a solution to this predicament deserve an “atta-boy” at the very least for their efforts. But that’s probably more than they will get. Their proposed solution is sensible but finding anyone who likes it will be difficult.
The irony in all of it is that hunters and livestock operators — those who wanted wolves reintroduced in Idaho the least — will be responsible for ponying up a lot of the cash it will take to backfill for the federal government’s hit and run policy on wolves. The feds have pulled $742,000 out of Animal Damage Control’s budget (ADC), a USDA agency tasked with managing wildlife, over the past three years. The cut has resulted in the loss of 10 full-time employees.
The state task force proposal includes $110,000 put up by the cattle industry to be generated through an increase in brand registration fees and other money generated by sheep and goat producers. The Idaho Fish and Game Department is planning to generate $110,000 in matching funds through a hunting license fee increase and the remaining funds, equaling $400,000 would come from the state’s general fund. The money would then be doled out to ADC for control and prevention of wolf damage.
Pragmatic on one hand and loathsome on the other, this new bill is likely to contain something for nearly everyone to dislike. Many livestock operators, who’ve never had wolf depredation on their ranches, don’t see a binding need to contribute. Hunters certainly don’t want to pay more for licenses when wolf reintroduction has resulted in fewer opportunities to harvest big game. And for the general tax-paying public, in lieu of diverting funds from somewhere else, do we really need a wolf tax to add to the monthly bills?
However, like it or not, and as the state’s top wildlife management experts have deftly pointed out, wolves are now a permanent part of our landscape. While we certainly don’t want to contribute more money to a problem we didn’t want in the first place, leaving the problem unchecked doesn’t seem viable either.
Frank Priestley is president of the Idaho Farm Bureau.