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Idaho Senate OKs bill to kill up to 90% of wolves in state

The Idaho Department of Fish and Game reported in February that the wolf population has been holding at about 1,500 the past two years.
Credit: National Park Service via AP, File
FILE - In this March 21, 2019, aerial file photo provided by the National Park Service, is the Junction Butte wolf pack in Yellowstone National Park, Wyo. Montana lawmakers have drafted bills that would allow more ways to kill gray wolves. The measures include proposals to expand wolf harvest seasons, reclassify the animals so they could be killed year-round and legalize the use of snares for trapping. (National Park Service via AP, File)

BOISE, Idaho — The Idaho Senate on Wednesday approved legislation allowing the state to hire private contractors to kill up to 90% of the wolves roaming Idaho.

The agriculture industry-backed bill approved Wednesday on 26-7 vote includes additional changes intended to cut the wolf population from about 1,500 to 150.

“These wolves, there’s too many in the state of Idaho now,” said Republican Sen. Mark Harris, one of the bill's sponsors, during debate on the Senate floor. “We’re supposed to have 15 packs, 150 wolves. We’re up to 1,553, was the last count, 1,556, something like that. They’re destroying ranchers. They’re destroying wildlife. This is a needed bill.”

The Idaho Department of Fish and Game reported in February that the wolf population has been holding at about 1,500 the past two years. The numbers were derived by using remote cameras and other methods.

About 500 wolves have been killed in the state in each of the last two years by hunters, trappers and wolf-control measures carried out by state and federal authorities.

Republican Sen. Van Burtenshaw, another of the bill's sponsors, downplayed the number of wolves to be killed while debating the bill.

“The purpose of this legislation is to control the population, not to wipe them out,” he said. “There’s never been any discussion in the working group of complete annihilation of the wolf population, or killing 90% of the wolves.”

However, Burtenshaw the previous day at a committee hearing for the bill cited numbers contained in Idaho’s 2002 wolf conservation and management plan. The plan calls for at least 150 wolves and 15 packs in Idaho. He said the state is allowed to increase the killing of wolves to reach that level. If the wolf population falls below 150, the killing of wolves would have to be reduced.

Also according to the plan, if Idaho’s wolf population fell to 100, there’s a possibility the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service could resume management of its wolf population. The 2002 document says wolf management could revert to what was in place when wolves were listed under the federal Endangered Species Act.

Democratic Sen. Grant Burgoyne noted nothing in the proposed law prevented the killing of wolves down to 150.

“We do know that if we want to maintain our agreement with the federal government, we need to stop at 90%,” he said. “That's what we know.”

The Humane Society of the United States issued a statement opposing the bill, calling it "a blatant attempt to usurp state biologists tasked with managing Idaho's wolves."

"This bill doesn't just cross an ethical line; it sprints right past it.  It is an embarrassment to the state of Idaho, and there is absolutely no scientific or ethical justification for this deeply misguided and dangerous legislation. In a race to slaughter one of America's most treasured animals, this bill allows fear and hate to win. Idaho's wolves deserve better; the environment deserves better.  This bill must be vetoed by Governor Little if it comes to his desk." 

A primary change in the new law is the hiring of private contractors to kill wolves. The legislation includes increasing the amount of money the Idaho Department of Fish and Game sends to the Idaho Wolf Depredation Control board from $110,000 to $300,000. The board, created in 2014, is an agency within the governor’s office that manages state money it receives to kill wolves.

Other changes in the legislation include removing any limit on the number of wolf tags issued to a hunter, meaning there would be no restriction on how many wolves one person is allowed to kill. Wolves, though, have proved difficult to find and kill for the vast majority of hunters and trappers.

The legislation also combines a hunting tag with a trapping and snaring tag, meaning only one tag is needed for those combined methods. Wolf trapping would be allowed year-round on private land.

In addition, the legislation makes changes to allow hunting wolves with ATVs and snowmobiles and other methods allowed for animals classified as predators, such as coyotes. Also, state agencies outside of Idaho would be allowed to kill wolves in Idaho.

The measure was sent to the House, where it passed a committee Thursday.

“The Idaho Senate’s sudden move to pass this bill in the eleventh hour incentivizes the cruel deaths of more than 1,000 wolves across the state,” said Andrea Zaccardi, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The consequences of this bill will be horrendous. This brutal war on wolves must be stopped, and we urge the House to deny this bill.”

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