Idaho bill would raise money for predator control efforts
By SEAN ELLIS
BOISE -- A bill that could raise money to help control wolf damage in Idaho has been sent to the House floor with a "do-pass" recommendation.
The bill by Rep. Judy Boyle, a Republican rancher from Midvale, would tap into Idaho Fish & Game's big game depredation fund to make up to $100,000 a year available to fund predator control efforts in Idaho.
The House Agricultural Affairs Committee voted March 15 to send it to the full House.
Some lawmakers opposed to the bill called it a minor band-aid fix but livestock groups that support increasing funding for predator control efforts said every little bit counts.
"Better a small band-aid than no band-aid at all," said Stan Boyd on behalf of the Idaho Cattle Association and Idaho Wool Growers Association. "Some money is better than nothing. This bill is not the solution but it's part of it."
Wildlife Services, a USDA agency that manages human-animal conflicts in Idaho, will receive about $235,000 less in federal funding next year and livestock groups are concerned that loss of funding will impact the agency's ability to control wolf manage.
Livestock industry officials say wolf damage in Idaho has increased significantly but funding for Wildlife Services continues to decline, leaving the agency unable to adequately deal with the damage caused by wolves.
House lawmakers earlier rejected an Idaho Cattle Association bill that would have given the livestock industry authority to raise a 5-cents-per-head brand inspection fee on cow-calf producers by as much as 25 cents a head. The money would have gone to Wildlife Services' animal damage control account.
Lawmakers said they weren't willing to punish cattle producers for a problem caused by the federal government and legislators who opposed the ICA bill have been trying to come up with other solutions.
"We don't feel like we need to be saddling the costs upon the victims, the cattle industry folks," said Rep. Gayle Batt, R-Wilder.
Boyle's bill could make up to $100,000 a year from Fish and Game's big game depredation account available to Wildlife Services. However, that money would come at the expense of the department's Access Yes program, which provides money to landowners who agree to allow sportsmen access to their land.
"This is another attempt to try to get some money for those folks that are suffering depredation problems, especially from wolves," Boyle said.
The depredation account has to maintain a balance of at least $750,000. Boyle' bill takes any overage from the fund that currently goes to Access Yes and directs it to Wildlife Services' animal damage control account.
But there's no guarantee any money will be available every year. There was no overage in fiscal years 2009 and 2012, while there was $88,000 in fiscal 2008, $13,000 in fiscal 2010 and $166,000 in fiscal 2011.
Boyle said she would soon introduce another bill that also makes funding available for Wildlife Services.