BOISE — Contracting regulations are among the challenges the Idaho Wolf Depredation Control Board will face in carrying out a new state law aimed at expanding harvest of the predators.
The new law allows the board to hire private contractors to kill wolves. It also increases funding to the board.
Comments at the board’s May 19 meeting included that the law could result in the over-harvest of wolves and have impacts on ecosystems. The cost per wolf was also mentioned, as well as using non-lethal deterrence for reducing wolf-livestock conflicts.
Ranchers strongly supported the law, largely because the wolf population has surged well above federal targets despite larger harvests in recent years. The summer population is about 1,500.
“There is a common misconception that life is going to be easier with contracting,” said board co-chair Celia Gould, director of the state Department of Agriculture. The board must comply with contracting rules and accepted procedures, like any state agency.
The board would be dealing with more unknowns, at least initially, in dealing with private contractors, said Fish and Game Director Ed Schriever, board co-chair.
The wolf board now contracts exclusively with USDA Wildlife Services, and “they have been responsive to the livestock industry,” he said. Though Wildlife Services may not be as cost-effective as a private contractor, “they are responsive, a known entity and available.”
Schriever said the new law doesn’t mandate that the board use private contractors and “we want to go into that with our eyes wide open.”
Talasi Brooks, staff attorney with the Western Watersheds Project, told Capital Press the law amounts to the Legislature wresting authority from the state Fish and Game Commission, a part of the executive branch created by 1933 voter initiative to be nonpartisan.
“Not only will this legislative interference spell a death sentence for wolves in Idaho, but it also sets a dangerous precedent for the Legislature interfering in fish and game management to achieve its own political ends,” she said.
Wildlife Services in Idaho from January through March conducted 12 depredation investigations related to wolf complaints from livestock producers, State Director Jared Hedelius said. Eight were confirmed wolf depredations, two were potential wolf depredations, and two were determined to be non-wolf.
A year earlier, Wildlife Services conducted seven investigations and confirmed three livestock depredations as wolf-caused.
Idaho Fish and Game reported that from Jan. 1 to May 4 it killed 22 wolves on public land in the Lolo Elk Zone, in the north-central region.
Endangered Species Coalition Northern Rockies Senior Field Representative Derek Goldman said in a statement that spending by Fish and Game is too high per animal, “unnecessary and an irresponsible use of public money. Wolf-livestock depredation is minimal, and is more efficiently addressed by proactive, non-lethal prevention methods that are being successfully deployed throughout the region.”