Lawmakers push for wolf disaster declaration

AP Photo/Yellowstone National Park In this Feb. 16, 2006 photo provided by Yellowstone National Park, a gray wolf is seen on the run near Blacktail Pond in Yellowstone National Park in Park County, Wyo.

Idaho bill would allow governor to order police to shoot wolves on sight

By JOHN MILLER

Associated Press

BOISE, Idaho -- Tiffani Bowen waits tables and cooks at the Country Coffee Cabin in Midvale, a little western Idaho ranching community along U.S. Highway 95 near millions of acres of national forest land. The mother of a 2-year-old has never seen one of the wolves that roam the mountains here, but when local talk turns to the big predators, residents are unified, she said.

"Everyone wants to have them all gone," Bowen said.

The local Republican Rep. Judy Boyle did her part April 5, successfully sponsoring a disaster emergency declaration that cleared the Idaho House on a 64-5 vote. It would allow Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter to enlist local law enforcement agents to help kill wolves if he decides they are a risk to humans, livestock, outfitting businesses or wildlife. It's similar to a measure in which Idaho County in 2010 unsuccessfully sought authority from Otter to allow wolves to be shot on sight.

The Senate Resources and Environment Committee heard from more than 50 Idaho ranchers, hunters and residents on April 6 before voting 7-2 to pass the measure. The bill now heads to full Senate for debate.

Wolves haven't attacked humans since their reintroduction to Idaho in 1995, but there's an almost archetypal fear in some of Idaho's rural communities that they are under siege from the big canine carnivores. Ranchers complain they're losing their livestock, hunters say wolves have made big game scarce.

And Rep. Lenore Barrett, R-Challis, says she won't let her grandchildren play outdoors because wolves have been spotted on nearby Blue Mountain.

"They're killers, they do it for sport, and then they leave their victim still alive for a lingering death," Barrett said.

After the April 5 vote, the measure moved to the Senate.

The estimated 1,650 wolves now in the Northern Rockies -- about half the population is in Idaho -- are descended primarily from 66 wolves trapped in Canada and released in remote areas of Idaho and Wyoming in the mid-1990s by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Federal Endangered Species Act protections have been lifted twice, once in 2008 and again in 2009 when there were legal public hunts in Idaho and Montana. But the protections were reinstated last August by a federal judge after a lawsuit was filed by environmental groups.

Just last month, 10 conservation groups that had sued reached an agreement with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to remove federal protections from wolves. There's also an effort in Congress by lawmakers from the northern Rocky Mountains to act.

Still, Idaho lawmakers like Rep. Marv Hagedorn, R-Meridian, are frustrated at the slow progress and hope to keep the pressure on with legislation like the disaster emergency declaration. Hagedorn, an avid hunter, complained it's been months since the Idaho Department of Fish and Game sought the go-ahead from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to kill dozens of wolves blamed for killing elk in northcentral Idaho.

"That population of elk in that one zone is no longer sustainable," Hagedorn said.

The five Democratic dissenters weren't convinced.

Wolves have been spotted on golf courses near Sun Valley, said Rep. Wendy Jaquet, who represents the central Idaho vacation region. Still, she's more frightened of even bolder mountain lions that have also been sighted around town.

Idaho already has the tools at its disposal to manage wolves appropriately without resorting to Boyle's bill, Jaquet said, including the likelihood of delisting, money to compensate livestock owners for losses and federal agents who can be called in to kill problem packs.

"We do have lethal measures that take place right now," she said. "We should let the process go forward."

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