By KEITH RIDLER
BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Idaho officials declined to move forward Friday allowing the use of bait by hunters to specifically target wolves amid widespread opposition.
The Idaho Fish and Game Commission voted 7-0 to direct the Department of Fish and Game to suspend an administrative process called negotiated rulemaking.
Commissioner Jerry Meyers said he would like more information about wolf baiting before moving ahead with any plan.
“I would like to have time to think about the rule,” he told fellow commissioners, “to decide which areas and to what extent.” Commissioners noted they could revisit the idea in the future.
Idaho hunters are already allowed to kill wolves attracted to bait put out for bears.
The change considered by the commission could have allowed hunters to target wolves with bait outside bear season. It would have required approval by state lawmakers.
State Wildlife Manager Jon Rachael told commissioners that the agency received about 24,000 comments on the idea with 96 percent opposed allowing hunters to use bait specifically targeting wolves.
The agency told the commission that views were so polarized that additional negotiated rulemaking wasn’t feasible.
Environmental groups have frequently fought Idaho in court over the state’s wolf management policies. Earlier this year, a federal judge ordered Fish and Game to destroy information collected on four wolves with radio collars illegally captured in a central Idaho wilderness area using a helicopter.
Idaho had about 780 wolves in 2015, the last time the state was required to do a count by federal officials. Idaho officials said Friday that wolf numbers remain strong based on the reported wolf kills and wolf reproductive rates.
But earlier in the meeting, Commissioner Daniel Blanco questioned Fish and Game employees about getting reliable wolf population numbers out of concern the agency could face lawsuits. Fish and Game officials said they were working on a process to get those numbers but it wasn’t yet available.
The 2015 wolf count by Idaho was the last required by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service after wolves in Idaho were removed from the Endangered Species List.
Federal officials can retake management of Idaho wolves if the population falls below set levels for various lengths of time. Idaho officials say the Idaho wolf population is far above that happening.
The rugged Frank Church River of No Return wilderness in central Idaho was one of the areas to receive wolves when they were first reintroduced in the contiguous United States. Officials released 35 in the area in 1995 and 1996.