Idaho is a place unto itself. Managed by right wing politicians and inhabitated by an ideology reminiscent of the 1800s, this state continues to slide backward. How can one believe otherwise when the Governor’s State of the State address this year included these words:
“One form of growth we don’t want to encourage is in the wolf population that was imposed on Idaho almost 20 years ago. With your unflinching support, we were able to fight through the opposition of those who would make Idaho into a restricted-use wildlife refuge and take back control of these predators from our federal landlords.
We’re managing them now, and they’re a trophy hunting species. But the population is still growing, and our resources remain at risk. So I’m calling for establishment of a Wolf Control Fund and a State board to direct and manage it.’
Butch Otter’s words are not only biased and inflammatory, they are erroneous. According to the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, wolf numbers have declined since 2009. In 2012, they dropped 11%. The 2013 report published this March states, “The Idaho wolf population increased steadily since reintroductions in 1995 and 1996 through 2009 (Idaho’s first wolf hunting season), after which data suggest the population has declined.”
On March 26 of this year, Governor Otter signed into law HB 470, the Wolf Control Bill that appropriates $400,000 to lethally control wolves. Other available funds raised the amount to $620,000. And while those supporting this bill had expected to get a cool 2 million in one shot, they have nothing to worry about as the appropriation will doubtlessly be available annually for the next five years.
Their apparent plan is to reduce the Idaho wolf population to 150 animals with 15 breeding pairs. This is the specific number that will keep them off the Federal Endangered Species List. Presumedly, reducing the population to 149 will bring the USFWS running and the state will lose control over their wolves.
Can you imagine obtaining a truly accurate population count in a place with the rugged, remote wilderness of Idaho? Can you imagine obtaining a truly accurate wolf count anywhere? Wolves move, they hide, they double back, they look remarkably like one another from a distance. And they aren’t born wearing collars, not yet anyway. How can we be assured the numbers aren’t dropping too low?
From what I understand, the state Fish and Wildlife Departments are not always forthcoming regarding their wolf counts. Wisconsin is a good, or should I say bad, example of this. In the past, they publicly shared the details of their process, but this year they closed the doors to their preliminary wolf count meeting. Hopefully, the reason was as they reported, to prevent hunters from finding out where to find wolves.
But the secrecy prevented everyone from understanding the results, including University of Wisconsin’s Adrian Treves, whose work focuses on the coexistance of wildlife and humans. He says in an article in The Badger Herald, “There’s a great deal of scientific concern about the data released this week because the methods have changed, the reporting has changed, and I’m not able to evaluate the quality of the data in the way I was able to do for the last 14 years.”
Incidently, the wolf population in Wisconsin dropped 19% over the past year, from 809 to 658.
Meanwhile, back in the gem state, Rep. Ken Andrus, R-Lava Hot Springs, rancher and chairman of Idaho’s House Agricultural Affairs Committee, has proposed that a chain link fence be placed around the perimeter of Yellowstone National Park to protect his sheep and cattle from marauding wolves.
He is quoted as saying this idea was tongue-in-cheek when he first proposed it but he’s come to believe it’s a darn good idea. And he believes the supposedly vast amount of money that wolf advocates are holding onto will finance the fence.
He does admit that the fence might be a hard sell and according to yesterday’s Capital Press, if it fails, he will support wolf predator zones, payments of wolf bounties to hunters, a continuous wolf hunting season and continued funding for lethal control efforts.
I find it desparing how many ways there are to eliminate wolves, and simultaneously, how Andrus and others minimize their own responsibility in protecting their livestock. Equally discouraging is how Idaho officials continue to reject the evidence verifying the importance of keystone predators as well as the statistics that show, year after year, that livestock deaths due to wolf predation rank below 1% of all losses.
Online posts from those who don’t adhere to the Idaho wolf loathing mentality propose some worthy ideas. Some suggest an Idaho boycott. Others like the idea of a lawsuit against the bill. And some hope the USFWS will step up and offically review the recent actions of HB 470, that the Service will go against the grain to defend a species that a few years ago, was deemed worthy of their full protection.
I learn from Garrick Dutcher of Living with Wolves that the fine print of the Endangered Species Act requires that in the five year post-delisting time frame (known as the oversite period), the USFWS requires that the states demonstrate that they are utilizing adequate regulatory mechanisms in protecting the recently delisted species. How will Idaho justify their track history of anti-wolf legislation and actions to the USFWS? And will the USFWS stand strong in enforcing this regulation? We have only a few years left in this five year period to find out.
In a less scientific viewpoint, will there come a day, even in Idaho, when wolves aren’t seen as numbers to erradicate but as an essential species with an intricate social structure, an animal that as much as any, represents that we have not yet destroyed all of the wild places of our natural world? Such an evolution of thinking in the western states would require a change in the dominant paradigm from its current mentality to one that is willing to consider the greater good rather than short-term, self centered needs, fears and desires.
Maybe the fence idea isn’t such a bad one. At least there would be one truly safe place for the wilderness to exist without the self interest of humankind to control it. I just hope the fence can also be used to keep out those who fail to appreciate the environment, and all the resident creatures, of places as wild and wonderful as Idaho.