Idaho wolf killings turn debate in new direction

After a public hearing, the Fish and Game commission sticks to its plan but acknowledges the need to heed critics.

rbarker@idahostatesman.comJanuary 17, 2014 

Idaho Fish and Game Commission Chairman Bob Borowsky stared Wednesday as Zachery Jones walked up with a sign that said “I’m pro-wolf and I hunt.”

Jones, who came to the Commission hearing to testify against the agency’s hiring of a hunter-trapper to kill wolves in the wilderness, stood silently for his three minutes of allotted time. Borowsky cracked a knowing smile, and his measured control of the meeting helped defuse another flare-up in the 19-year fight over wolves in Idaho — as did the behavior of the 150 hunters, animal lovers and conservationists who attended the hearing Wednesday.

“I think it was clear at the public hearing last night we hit a nerve,” Pocatello Commissioner Randy Budge said Thursday.

The commission did not back off its commitment to reduce predator numbers to boost populations of elk and other species, when necessary. It voted unanimously Thursday for an elk management plan that calls for killing two wolf packs in the Middle Fork of the Salmon River in the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness.

But Budge and Borowsky said the commission needs the support of non-hunters.

“My concern is, do we alienate large groups of people that have feelings about wilderness whose support we need for management outside the wilderness?” Budge asked.

LIKE ANY GAME ANIMAL

F&G’s hunter-trapper already has killed nine wolves near Big Creek, a Middle Fork tributary. Borowsky said using department personnel was necessary to reduce predation this spring on elk calves because private hunters and trappers won’t. That could change next year.

Agency biologists and some outfitters say elk numbers could rebound relatively quickly because of improved habitat following fires. They hope to learn more after this year.

“It hurts me as a commissioner to hear them say we’re picking on the wolves,” Borowsky said. “We’re managing them like we manage any game animal.”

When elk were eating farmers’ crops near Weiser, and hunters couldn’t reduce their numbers, F&G staff killed elk, he said. Budge is promoting the idea of killing pelicans to protect rare Bonneville cutthroat.

But he hopes the commission listens to its critics: “We should rethink this,” he said.

Not every commissioner agrees. Will Naillon, from Challis, said it’s a matter of presentation and “education on the issue.”

On Wednesday, Stabe Hedges of Boise spoke for hunters across Idaho who have a harder time finding elk in the places where they have hunted since their youths.

“I know what we used to have here and I know what was lost,” Hedges said.

John Robison, public land director of the Idaho Conservation League, asked the people filling the Washington Group Center auditorium for a show of hands if they were angry about the killing. The majority raised their hands.

“It’s upsetting to me that so many people support an animal that has decimated the state,” Hedges said.

MOVING ON

“Restoration must include predator harvest on a consistent basis,” said Grant Simonds, executive director of the Idaho Outfitters and Guides Association.

Jen Pierce, a geology professor at Boise State University, read a statement from 15 scientists and Idaho professors protesting the killing: The decision “does not demonstrate informed management ... and contradicts the mission statement of the Idaho Fish and Game,” Pierce said. Dispatching the hunter-trapper before the meeting on the elk plan was “perplexing,” she said.

After the hearing, F&G director Virgil Moore said he hopes the dialogue between groups that have so much in common continues.

Rocky Barker: 377-6484

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