LAVA HOT SPRINGS, Idaho — The chairman of Idaho’s House Agricultural Affairs Committee is promoting construction of a durable, chain-link fence around all of Yellowstone National Park to prevent wolf depredation of livestock in surrounding states.
Rep. Ken Andrus, R-Lava Hot Springs, said he needs to research the cost and logistics before committing to legislative action, such as backing an advisory vote expressing Idaho’s sentiments to the federal government that a fence should be built.
Andrus first suggested the fence tongue-in-cheek while debating a bill authorizing state funding for lethal wolf control.
Since then, Andrus said, “The more I think about it, the more I think we ought to look at the feasibility.”
Andrus, a sheep and cattle rancher, believes relocating wolves and isolating them to the park would also facilitate research into how wolves impact big game and other wildlife. He acknowledges it would be costly to build and maintain such an expansive fence — and to fortify its base to prevent wolves from digging beneath it. But he suspects eastern wolf lovers would gladly finance the effort with their donations.
Andrus admits few others have embraced his idea thus far.
Ralph Maughan, vice president of Hailey-based Western Watersheds Project and founder of the online newspaper Wildlife News, disagrees that wolf advocates would contribute toward a fence. Along much of the park’s border, he emphasized a fence would pass through wilderness and require an act of Congress to approve.
“You can imagine a fence would just break up a splendid amount of wild country,” said Maughan, who suspects wolf-caused livestock mortality is overestimated, anyway.
Yellowstone National Park spokesman Al Nash said the park’s perimeter is roughly 63 miles north to south and 54 miles east to west, covering 2.2 million acres — more than a couple of eastern states combined. Nonetheless, he’s heard citizens advocate during many public meetings to fence at least portions of the park to stop bison from spreading brucellosis to adjacent cattle herds.
Nash said the park’s wolf population has stabilized at around 100 animals, and a fence would also disrupt migrations of other wildlife species.
“Our approach to managing wildlife is to allow nature to work with as limited human impact as reasonably possible,” Nash said.
Wyatt Prescott, executive vice president of Idaho Cattle Association, declined to comment about the fence issue but said his organization is optimistic about $600,000 in combined funding recently provided by the state, the livestock industry and sportsmen for lethal control of wolves.
Sen. Bert Brackett, R-Twin Falls, considers the fence proposal to be unrealistic.
“It will never happen. Let’s be honest,” said Brackett, who is also a rancher.
Brackett would rather have Idaho pursue wolf predator zones, as Wyoming has done, where wolves could be hunted with little restriction, as with other common predators.
“Keep wolves inside of their zone and you can tolerate it,” Brackett said.
If his fence idea fails to catch on, Andrus said he would support wolf predator zones, payments of wolf bounties to hunters, a continuous wolf hunting season and continued funding for lethal control efforts.