BOISE — A House committee has approved legislation that calls for using $2 million in state money to create a special board designed specifically to fund lethal wolf control efforts in Idaho.
Members of the House Resources and Conservation Committee voted 14-4 Feb. 17 to send the bill to the full House with a “do-pass” recommendation.
The committee’s three Democrats and one Republican voted against the bill, which would create a five-member wolf control board whose sole purpose would be to help fund efforts to control problem wolves in Idaho.
The $2 million is meant to last five years, and livestock producers and sportsmen will each chip in $110,000 annually.
The plan, one of Gov. Butch Otter’s signature proposals this year, would generate about $620,000 a year for five years.
The bill survived a print hearing Jan. 27 by one vote. But its sponsors revised it to include a five-year sunset clause and clarify how the board operates.
Federal funding for the control of problem wolves in Idaho has declined by about $630,000 annually in recent years and supporters of the bill say it’s necessary to ensure Idaho can continue to control wolves that take heavy tolls on livestock and wildlife.
About 50 people testified during the 2 1/2-hour public hearing and testimony was about equal for and against the bill.
Ranchers told lawmakers they desperately need help to control problem wolves.
“An unmanaged wolf population creates a significant threat to the livelihood of many ranchers in the state of Idaho,” said Brad Higgins, who operates a cow-calf operation in Cottonwood.
Matt Thompson, a livestock producer in east Idaho, said the plan is critical to ensure adequate funding for Idaho Wildlife Services, the USDA agency tasked with managing problem wolves.
Bill supporters said the loss of federal funding has significantly limited Wildlife Services’ ability to control depredating wolves.
Thompson said that after wolves “chewed through 40 of my family’s calves” a few years ago, Wildlife Services personnel killed seven of the wolves in one day.
“Problem stopped, like that!” he said. “They can manage wolves if they are funded.”
To ensure the state’s cattle and sheep industries continue to remain viable, “this is an issue that must be addressed,” said Marty Gill, a fifth-generation rancher from Idaho County. “We can’t keep kicking it down the road.”
Bill opponents said they worry the plan will result in a decimation of the wolf population in Idaho and pointed out that wolf numbers in Idaho have steadily declined since 2009.
“It sounds to me like it’s a funding mechanism for a war on wolves,” said Bill Chisolm.
Republican Sen. Bert Brackett, a rancher from Rogerson and one of the bill’s sponsors, said the legislation would not result in a wholesale slaughter of wolves.
“It is not a wolf extermination bill, as some of the opposition are claiming,” he said.