By Brad Carlson
The Idaho Wolf Depredation Control Board on Nov. 29 took under advisement a proposal to spend more money on monitoring and control, and new research.
Cascade, Idaho, rancher Phil Davis, in testimony and in a letter, said the board should put more GPS-equipped collars on wolves this winter, the best time of year to collar and track them. That would allow USDA Wildlife Services to identify wolves preying on livestock, and to act, he said.
He also proposed the board lease or buy a helicopter to replace Wildlife Services’ 1966-built military helicopter that is expensive to maintain and often unavailable.
Davis, whose cattle herd has been reduced by wolf depredations, also suggested the board spend money on research into clinically diagnosing and testing livestock for myopathy, which is muscle weakness or dysfunction. There is no way to reliably and conclusively test for it now. Western Watersheds and other environmental groups contend some livestock deaths are incorrectly attributed to wolves despite a lack of physical evidence of attack.
“University-level research needs to be conducted into the effects and diagnosis of myopathy on livestock, and the physiological signs and symptoms of livestock being ‘run to death’ by wolves,” he wrote. “This will give us all a better understanding of the effects of wolves harassing livestock and not just killing them.”
Davis said he expects wolf depredations to increase this year and in 2019, as they did last year. He said USDA in 2017 reported 147 investigations and 89 confirmed depredations compared to 78 investigations and 48 confirmed depredations in 2016.
Todd Grimm, Idaho director for Wildlife Services, said confirmed depredation deaths during the state’s July 1-Sept. 30 fiscal quarter — the year’s busiest, when the most livestock are exposed to the most wolves for the longest period — included 29 cows, 48 calves and 89 sheep.
Scott Nicholson, a rancher in Owyhee County, Idaho, also urged the Depredation Council Board to direct more money to Wildlife Services.
“Without them, I would be out of business,” he said.
The board includes representatives from Idaho Fish and Game and the state Department of Agriculture. It gets $400,000 from the Idaho Legislature, and $110,000 each from the livestock industry and sportsmen. The share from sportsmen comes with some restrictions.
“We want to more aggressively allocate money and get more creative about spending our funding to do more work,” said board Chairman Virgil Moore, Idaho Fish and Game director. He said the board this winter plans to collar more wolves in the Long Valley, from Cascade north to McCall in west central Idaho.
The board pays Wildlife Services, with Fish and Game authorization. Often, a rancher contacts Fish and Game or Wildlife Services after finding a dead animal. Wildlife Services in turn investigates and reports findings to Fish and Game, which can initiate a control action authorizing Wildlife Services to kill offending wolves for 60 days after the depredation. Wildlife Services’ bill to the board for April through June was $89,779.
Rusty Kramer of the Idaho Trappers Association, said more areas should be opened to wolf trapping, and more areas’ seasons opened in October rather than November. The foothold traps work much better on dry dirt than on frozen ground or snow, he said. Such a change would require state Fish and Game Commission action.
Idaho manages wolves. Various speakers said the wolf population and livestock depredations have increased in recent years, and that wolves in some locations pushed elk to lower elevations closer to cattle.
The Wolf Depredation Control Board was created in 2014 within the office of the governor. Its statutory authority is slated to end or “sunset” June 30, 2020, unless the Idaho Legislature takes further action. A bill to remove the enabling legislation’s sunset clause will likely be proposed during the 2019 legislative session, board members said.