Lawmakers in Idaho are pushing to drastically reduce wolf numbers in the state, perhaps by as much as over 90%, complementing other US efforts to shrink their population.
Idaho’s gray wolf population was recently estimated at 1,556, but sponsors of a bill approved in the state senate last week say that the preferred number of wolf packs in the state is 15. Because a wolf pack in the region averages 10 wolves, this means the bill could lead to hunters killing well over 1,000 wolves.
The bill will see a vote in the state house of representatives today, where Republicans, who generally support the measure, hold a 58-12 majority. If successful, the bill will land on the desk of the governor for his signature soon after.
Recent months have seen a dramatic reversal of fortunes for US gray wolves. Since the Trump administration removed Endangered Species Act protections from gray wolves on 4 January, interest groups and states moved quickly to weaken protections and open up hunting of the wild canine. Conservation groups quickly sued the federal government to relist the species. Until that lawsuit is resolved, or the Biden administration intervenes, management of wolves is up to the states.
Wisconsin, which has a law requiring the state to hold a wolf hunt,conducted one soon after, resulting in hunters killing at least 216 wolves in less than 60 hours. A researcher estimated that an additional 115 wolves were poached, or illegally killed.
The state’s hand was in part forced by Hunter Nation, a hunting organization founded by prominent Trump supporter Don Peay, which filed a lawsuit to force the state wildlife agency to hold the hunt.
The Montana governor, Greg Gianforte, who was cited for breaking state hunting regulations in killing a wolf, recently signed a bill into law that would allow the state to reimburse wolf hunters and trappers for their expenses. In South Dakota, wolves were classified as predatory animals following de-listing, and can now be hunted and trapped, as the state leadership does not wish for the animals to establish themselves in the state.
If passed, the Idaho bill would allow each hunter to use any methods available for killing other wild canines in the state, such as coyotes, which include the use of bait, spotlights at night, as well as electronic calls. It would also allow hunters to kill an unlimited number of wolves each year, increase the funding for the state’s Wolf Depredation Board to hire private contractors to shoot and trap wolves, and allow wolves to be snared and trapped on private land all year long.
The Idaho fish and game commission, which is mandated to manage fish and wildlife in the state, opposed the legislation.
Prior to near decimation via European colonization, wolves populated much of North America. The gray wolf, which the US Fish and Wildlife Service called “an integral component of the ecosystems to which it typically belongs”, was slowly recovered via conservation efforts, but has remained at the center of controversy ever since. Often perceived to be a threat to the hunting and livestock industries, the gray wolf has also been shown to make more resilient elk herds.
Garrick Dutcher, research and program director for Living With Wolves, told the Guardian the Idaho bill is dangerous because “should the legislature set this precedent, they could wrestle away authority from the fish and game commission for other species as well”. He points out that the department of fish and game is staffed with biologists, while the state legislature is not.
Dutcher contends that of the 2.5 million cattle in Idaho, fewer than 200 are lost each year to wolves. The number in 2020 was 84. “Every year, we lose far more to coyotes, to bad weather, to birth complications, and disease – orders of magnitude more,” he said.
But Cameron Mulrony, executive vice-president of the Idaho Cattle Association, said the livestock and big game industries experience economic losses as a result of wolves. “A cow taken by a wolf is similar to a thief stealing an item from a production line in a factory,” he said.
“The loss of a portion of a production line must be replaced, costing dollars. In addition the down time and loss of production while that replacement is put into place, and added to the line is an additional cost. Lastly, stress put on portions of any production line also create costs to the business.”
Citing the rash of efforts to remove protections for wolves and hunt them, Amaroq Weiss, senior west coast wolf advocate for the Center for Biological Diversity, said that “all of the same political forces that have been at this for years have never gone away. Their effort is to undo whatever progress has been made, and if they could, eradicate wolves all over again.”
This article was first published by The Guardian on 27 April 2021. Lead Image: A Mexican gray wolf. Idaho’s gray wolf population was recently estimated at 1,556 wolves. Photograph: Jeff Roberson/AP.
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