Predator threat spurs assessment push

Terrell Williams/For the Capital Press Lambs rest next to ewes on a farm south of Hagerman, Idaho. About 3,000 ewes have been giving birth during unusually mild and dry February weather.

Sheep producers seek to offset lost federal funding for predator control

By SEAN ELLIS

Capital Press

BOISE -- A bill backed by Idaho's sheep industry would give the Idaho Sheep Commission authority to raise the current grower checkoff fee of 6 cents per pound of wool to as much as 12 cents.

More money is desperately needed to fund predator control efforts, Idaho Wool Growers Association Executive Director Stan Boyd told lawmakers recently.

The legislation was approved by the House Agricultural Affairs Committee Feb. 22 and if it becomes law, "the assessment rate would still be 6 cents," Boyd said. "It just gives the commission authority to raise it in the future if they need to."

IWGA members voted to give the commission authority to raise the assessment ceiling during their annual meeting in November.

The commission's current budget is $100,000 and each penny increase in the assessment rate would raise about $17,000 per year.

Boyd, who is also executive secretary of the sheep commission, said more money is needed to fund predator control efforts.

The Idaho Wildlife Services program, a USDA agency that manages wildlife damage in the Gem State, lost $247,000 of its $1.7 million in federal funding last year. The agency receives about $700,000 in cooperative funds annually from sheep and cattle groups, who have been trying to figure out ways to make up for the lost funding.

According to USDA statistics, predation is the largest cause of sheep mortality in Idaho and coyotes, wolves and other predators kill about 6,700 sheep and lambs in the state each year.

Boyd said losses caused by wolves have increased dramatically in recent years.

Half of the commission's budget goes to the predator control program and the rest is used to prevent and eradicate diseases.

If the commission does raise the checkoff rate, Boyd said, the extra money would likely go to the animal damage control program "because that's what's threatening us the most right now. Wolves keep growing in numbers every year."

Rupert sheep rancher Henry Etcheverry said he's in favor of increasing the checkoff ceiling to 12 cents even though increasing it to that level would cost him several thousand dollars a year.

He said if sheep producers want to continue to benefit from the health and predator control services the commission provides, they're going to have to be willing to provide more money.

"You can't do those things without having a little more funding," he said. "If we want those services and we want to keep our outfits going, we have to have more funding."

Boyd said the checkoff rate would remain at 6 cents until at least November, when IWGA members debate the issue at their annual meeting.

The bill would also give the commission authority to assess goats on a per-head basis at a rate comparable to the wool assessment. The commission has always had authority to regulate goat health but has not had the ability to assess the checkoff fee on that industry.

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