By SEAN ELLIS
BOISE -- A bill that would increase wolf tag prices and use the money to control problem wolves and compensate livestock producers for wolf losses has died in the House of Representatives.
The bill had been approved by the House ag committee March 26 despite opposition from the Idaho Fish and Game Department.
However, it was narrowly killed two days later on a 35-33 vote by House lawmakers opposed to using hunting fee revenue to compensate livestock producers.
Debate over the bill during a public hearing resulted in one lawmaker reminding fish and game that the legislature, not the department, sets state policy.
Sharon Kiefer, the department's deputy director for programs and policy, told lawmakers the bill could erode the department's ability to monitor wolves and possibly result in a loss of some federal wildlife management funds.
The fish and game commission did not get to review the bill, she said, and wants lawmakers to hold it.
"We are a bit disappointed with the haste and lack of discussion about this bill and its possible consequences," Kiefer said.
With about $300,000 in federal money for predator control efforts in Idaho due to dry up this year, lawmakers are scrambling to find ways to fill the gap.
Despite the bill's demise, lawmakers put fish and game officials on notice that they expect the department to quickly address the problem of wolf damage to producers and wildlife.
Rep. Gayle Batt, R-Wilder, told Kiefer the department has known about livestock and sportsmen concerns about wolf damage for a long time and has failed to respond adequately.
"Please take it back to fish and game that we want to see a solution to this problem. We can't keep kicking it down the road," she said.
Batt also told Kiefer to remind fish and game officials that the Legislature sets policy for the department, not the other way around.
"When fish and game does not respond to the concerns of sportsmen and ranchers in the state of Idaho, it is the duty of the Legislature to step in," she said. "This needs to be a priority for fish and game."
The bill by Rep. Judy Boyle, a Republican rancher from Midvale, proposed increasing the cost of wolf tags by $4 and using the money to create a new account that would compensate producers for wolf losses.
Based on the sale of 43,213 wolf tags last year, the account would have raised more than $172,000 annually.
The bill also would have directed fish and game to use another $4 from every wolf tag to control wolves that are causing problems for livestock and wildlife.
Another bill by Boyle that would tap into an existing fish and game account and raise as much as $100,000 for predator control efforts in Idaho has passed both the Senate and House.