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Idaho Gov. Otter wants more federal money for wolves

Sean Cockerham
McClatchy Newspapers

WASHINGTON — Hunters, trappers and others wiped out nearly a third of Idaho’s wolves last year after the state took over management from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. But about 750 survived, and Gov. Butch Otter wants federal money as reimbursement for Idaho having to host them.

Otter says the federal government needs to give the state and ranchers more money to compensate for the wolves. Fish and Wildlife, though, wants to cut back on money for Idaho since the wolves are no longer on the endangered species list.

Members of Congress, led by Rep. Mike Simpson of Idaho, last year used a budget bill to effectively delist wolves in Idaho and Montana. The move gave the states the ability to manage their wolf populations, and Idaho has authorized hunting and trapping.

The federal government reintroduced wolves to Idaho in 1995. The Idaho Department of Fish and Game released a report Wednesday estimating the state wolf population at the end of 2011 was 746 and that biologists had confirmed the deaths of 296 during the year.

Hunters and trappers accounted for 200 of the known deaths, while most of the others came from government wolf control efforts and landowner actions taken in the face of livestock predation. The state doesn’t have a clear estimate of the current number of wolves in Idaho. But 169 more wolves have been killed in the state since the start of the year. So the population could be down in the range of 577, said Jon Rachael of Fish and Game.

“Thanks to Idaho’s hunters and trappers, we’ve made good progress in getting the wolf population under control and into better balance with prey species, such as elk, but we’ve still got a ways to go,” said Jim Unsworth, Fish and Game’s deputy director.

Wolves give birth to pups in April, and numbers will change then, but the population is down in Idaho for the second straight year. An estimate compiled by the Nez Perce Tribe at the end of 2010 put the number of wolves in Idaho at 777, down from a high of 856 the year before.

The state has to maintain a minimum of 150 wolves and 15 breeding pairs to prevent a review of whether they should again be a protected species.


Otter complained to Congress about the wolves last week, testifying in Washington, D.C., that wolf reintroduction had been forced on the state and the federal government should be “exploring a long-term funding mechanism to mitigate this federal action.”

He argued that the feds should be paying for wolf and elk management costs in Idaho, and that “livestock producers should be reimbursed for confirmed and probable livestock losses.”

Otter’s office said the state was instead told to expect a gradual cut in federal wolf management dollars over the next four years from $704,000 down to zero.

“I hear from environmental groups all over the United States when we started our very successful wolf hunt, that, ‘Why was I killing all those wolves, and how beautiful they are,’” Otter told Congress. “You respond back to them and say, ‘When was the last time you came to Idaho and spent some money to look at a wolf?’”


U.S. Fish and Wildlife said a cut in federal wolf management funding comes along with taking wolves off the protected list.

“Now that wolves are recovered, the service funding that had supported recovery management efforts for wolves needs be re-directed to listed species that are at risk of extinction,” Fish and Wildlife spokesman Jason Holm told the Statesman.

The governor’s office said the federal government should also do more to reimburse ranchers. The state reports 71 cattle, 121 sheep, six dogs, three horses and two domestic bison were confirmed as wolf kills last year. A smaller number were considered to be “probable” kills.

The environmental group Defenders of Wildlife was paying for livestock reimbursement until September 2010. Otter spokesman Jon Hanian said Congress appropriated money to reimburse ranchers, but the fund is now down to just $20,000 after paying out $100,000 last year.

Hanian said the federal government is talking about putting more into the fund, but only half the new money would go to ranchers, and the other half for nonlethal control of wolves.

The concerns about federal funding have become an issue in the Idaho Legislature. A House committee has introduced a bill to divert $8 from every wolf hunting tag sold in Idaho into an account for livestock reimbursement and wolf management.


Suzanne Stone, Northern Rockies representative for Defenders of Wildlife, maintains Idaho has been too quick to give money to ranchers for livestock losses when it is not proven that wolves were the cause.

“There’s no documentation that these are actually wolf related,” Stone told the Statesman. “These are just county commissioners deciding who might have had livestock losses and throwing money towards it. Idaho has had a lot of help from the feds and unfortunately has not been very responsible in how they’ve made those payments.”

Stone said the federal government sends a lot of money to Idaho in different ways for wolf issues, including for preventive measures so that ranches can protect themselves from livestock losses.

But Hanian said the wolves are costing the state money by killing wild game. He said the state has lost millions of dollars in nonresident deer and elk tag revenue in the last three years.

Stone disputed that. She said there’s no scientific evidence the ecosystem is out of balance because of wolves. Stone said there are a lot of other predators of elk in Idaho, including 3,000 mountain lions that eat more elk than wolves do.

“In some ways wolves are benefitting elk in that they’re the only predator that actually culls disease and other illnesses from those herds,” Stone said. “So genetically over time, wolves actually improve the overall health of elk populations.

“So the wolves should maybe be charging Idaho for their services.”