BOISE -- Wednesday's public meeting of the Idaho Department of Fish and Game Commissioners included passionate testimony from members of the public on both sides of Idaho's wolf debate.
The seven-member Idaho Fish and Game Commission gathered Wednesday night to hear public testimony on the eve of the commission's first meeting of 2014.
The commission is scheduled to vote Thursday on whether to accept the department's revised elk management plan, among other action items.
That plan includes controversial recommendations for wolf reduction in key areas of the state, including the Middle Fork Salmon River area of the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness.
Fish and Game records indicate the elk population in that specific area dropped 43% from 7,485 to 4,223 from 2002 to 2011. The decline is partially blamed on wolves.
The revised elk management plan would consider making it a policy to hire professional trappers and hunters to target wolves here, along with considering aerial removal of wolves.
IDFG staff have already hired a professional wolf hunter to target wolf packs in the area.
MEMBERS OF THE PUBLIC TESTIFY
While Idaho's public stance on wolves is that of a managed, big-game animal, a large number of those who spoke at the meeting were against killing wolves.
John Robison of the Idaho Conservation League spoke in concern regarding the commission's goal of eliminating two wolf packs in the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness.
Robison said the area is one of the few places that wild predators can "fulfill their ecological goal."
"Idaho's wildlife belongs to Idahoans, but the Frank Church Wilderness belongs to all Americans," Robison told commissioners
Lynette McDermott testified that while she has deep roots in Idaho and loves elk, she's supporting wolves in this case. "I stepped into this conversation about 10 years ago with an open mind, and based on scientific facts, I decided to defend the wolves with my voice," McDermott said.
Ken Cole from Boise testified that he previously worked for the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, and disapproved of the wolf-killing practice in order to increase elk herds.
"Managing or exterminating wolves to increase elk populations inside the Frank Church Wilderness is not an acceptable management scheme," Cole said.
However, those pushing for control of wolves in the area voiced their concerns too.
Grant Simonds from the Idaho Outfitters and Guides Licensing Board said his organization fully supported the state's control actions of wolves in the area.
Citing the recovery of the species, the delisting of wolves from the federal endangered species list, and other factors, Simonds called on commissioners to help elk herds grow bigger in the controversial management area.
"Restoration must include predator harvest on a consistent basis, as research indicates the wolf population can withstand human caused mortality of the 30 to 50 percent," Simonds said.
The commission moved the meeting from the Trophy Room at IDFG headquarters to a bigger venue at the Washington Group Plaza just down the street in anticipation of crowds.
The commission will meet and vote on the revised elk plan, along with other issues, Thursday at 8 a.m. at the Idaho Fish and Game headquarters.