Larry Schoen: Idaho needs a new wolf management structure

Guest Opinion: Wildlife

January 29, 2014 

Three recent events — Idaho Fish and Game’s hiring of a hunter/trapper to take wolf packs in the Frank Church Wilderness Area, Gov. Butch Otter’s ‘wolf commission’ proposal and the Salmon Wolf/Coyote Derby — have encouraged new voices to make themselves heard online, in newspaper pages across the state and at the Jan. 15 Fish and Game Commission public meeting. The result, refreshingly, has been largely a thoughtful and respectful public exchange about wolves and wolf management.

These three events and public reaction to them are just the latest strong indicators that it is time for the Idaho Department of Fish and Game to become the Idaho Department of Wildlife, with funding from fishing and hunting fees, general tax revenues and other appropriate sources.

Having been involved directly in the Wood River Wolf Project in Blaine County since 2008; having promoted the project’s goals at the state and federal levels; having been a claimant repeatedly to Fish and Game for significant wildlife depredation on my crops; and having read and traveled for this issue extensively and participated in field investigations, I have experienced wildlife — including predator — management issues personally and worked with people on all sides.

It has been said there is no middle ground on the wolf issue. This conclusion is untrue and it is unacceptable, because it suggests that there is room only for extreme views and the ongoing conflict and myopia such dynamics have engendered.

The purpose of the multicooperator Wood River Wolf Project has been to develop, deploy and promote effective nonlethal predator deterrent tools for livestock managers on public and private lands in Blaine County. The project has been successful annually since inception. It demonstrates useful alternatives to predator elimination at the first indication of conflict and the potential for coexistence.

Here are eight specific reasons why the model for wildlife management in Idaho has to change and why it will change, sooner or later:

1) Idaho wildlife is a state resource, so the stake in Idaho wildlife belongs equally to all Idahoans. All Idahoans deserve enfranchisement in state wildlife management and policy formation.

2) Adding these enfranchised voices to policy debates — bringing different value systems, different interests in and perspectives on wildlife — will yield new solutions to old problems.

3) It will replace bitterness, fear and resentment with greater understanding, acceptance, support and cooperation among all stakeholders.

4) Becoming a Department of Wildlife will strengthen the ability to meet the goals of fish and game management in order to meet the needs of hunters and fishermen, not overwhelm it.

5) Individual wildlife species do not exist in isolation and cannot be managed in isolation. Wildlife do not observe hunting unit boundaries or political boundaries. Broader scientific perspectives and the patience of integrated approaches are needed for long-term effective management and decision-making. Integrated management accounts better for how these species interact with and affect one another and their habitats. Integration here means across species, disciplines, regions and agencies.

6) The model for any state or nation managing its wildlife of drawing its funding solely from hunters and fishermen and to prioritize the needs of hunters and fishermen in all its management decisions for this reason is obsolete, inefficient, ineffective and inadequate. The same would be true for nonsportsmen. Idaho is among the last to use it.

7) Fish and Game operates with inadequate resources to do its job and today needs additional support and funding.

8) Resistance to change based upon fear fails eventually — always, everywhere. Let us move proactively and with a positive, cooperative spirit to effect needed changes to wildlife management in our state.

Schoen, of Hailey, is Blaine County Commissioner.

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