Federal funding for predator control has been cut dramatically
By SEAN ELLIS
BOISE -- A bill that would raise a brand inspection fee for cow-calf producers to pay for predator control efforts was introduced in the Idaho Legislature Feb. 21, but it faces an uncertain fate.
The bill, which would give the cattle industry the authority to raise an animal damage control fee by as much as 25 cents per head, largely to help control wolf damage, is opposed by the Idaho Farm Bureau Federation.
During an initial hearing on the bill, members of the House State Affairs Committee expressed significant concern about the proposal.
A fee of 5 cents per head on all cattle in Idaho is collected at the time of brand inspection and the money is used to fund animal damage control efforts by Wildlife Services, a USDA agency that manages wildlife damage in Idaho.
Federal funding for Idaho Wildlife Services was cut $247,000 last year and Idaho Cattle Association representative Stan Boyd told lawmakers it will be reduced $125,000 this year.
ICA members are asking the legislature to give industry the authority to raise the assessment by as much as 25 cents per head. Any increase in the assessment would apply only to cow-calf producers, while dairy cattle and commercial feedlot cattle would be exempt from any increase.
Boyd said that sheep growers are already assessed on average about 30 cents per head for animal damage control.
For years, depredation in Idaho was mainly a sheep problem. "Now we have wolves and guess what? They prefer beef," Boyd said.
Some committee members had trouble understanding the issue and the committee voted 13-2 to introduce the bill and send it to the House Agricultural Affairs Committee.
"I believe we have a good chairman of the agricultural committee" who can deal with this, said Rep. Joe Palmer, R-Meridian, who was sympathetic to the cattle industry's plight but criticized the federal government for reducing funding.
"This is the most ridiculous thing I've ever voted on," he said. "I can't believe we have to pay for a program that the federal government forced on us in the first place."
Palmer's comments reflected the concern of several lawmakers, and Boyd said producers also don't like the idea of paying for a problem caused by the federal government.
"They don't want to pay for it and we don't want to pay for it," he said. "In the interim, the wolf population continues to go up and so does the damage."
Rep. Ken Andrus, R-Lava Hot Springs, the ag committee chairman, welcomed the issue being sent to his committee.
"The livestock people are more frustrated than you committee members are that they have to step up to the plate to take care of themselves ... when it was the federal government that forced this problem on us," he said.