Wolf board's taking of fees from hunters becomes issue

Idaho Fish and Game officials say a new law meets U.S. requirements.

rbarker@idahostatesman.comApril 2, 2014 

A gray wolf

DAWN VILLELLA — Associated Press file

Two federal laws - the Pittman-Robertson Wildlife Restoration Act and the Dingell-Johnson Sport Fish Restoration Act - require that state hunting and fishing license dollars be used solely to administer state fish and wildlife agencies.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is looking into whether a new law creating the Idaho Wolf Depredation Control Board violates the federal acts by transferring hunting and fishing license dollars to a fund used for the killing of wolves.

The bill, signed into law last week by Gov. Butch Otter, requires the Idaho Department of Fish and Game to transfer $110,000 annually to the fund, which will be overseen by a board appointed by the governor.

Fish and Game officials are confident the law meets the federal requirements because it was written to ensure that any money be used according to Fish and Game guidance, said Mike Keckler, the department's communications director.

"While it is transferred, there are strings attached that have to be followed," Keckler said. "The Fish and Wildlife Service has accepted this language in the past, and we believe they will in this instance, too."

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service chose last week not to comment on the law, saying that wolves are under the management of state officials since Congress voted to remove them from the Endangered Species List in 2011.

But the federal agency did say in an email that is it is working with Fish and Game to make sure that funds provided to the state through the Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration Program meet the federal criteria.

If the new law does not meet federal approval, Idaho risks losing millions of dollars in excise taxes on sporting gear, guns and ammunition that come to the state through the federal program. The two acts and federal regulations contain provisions and guidelines on eligible costs and allow the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to reimburse states for up to 75 percent.

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell announced last week that Idaho's share of the excise tax revenues would be $20.2 million in 2014.

"The service looks forward to continuing its 75-year-long collaboration with the state in delivering the benefits of WSFR funds to Idaho's anglers, boaters, shooters and hunters," said Gavin Shire, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service acting deputy chief of public affairs.

The control board was proposed by the governor and approved by the Legislature to provide money to kill wolves that attack livestock and eat more elk than Fish and Game would like. The dollars from Idaho licenses will be matched with money from special taxes collected on livestock producers; in 2014, the board will get $400,000 from taxpayers.

Supporters say the new plan makes up for cuts to the U.S. Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services, the agency that has trappers and agents who work with ranchers and others to reduce livestock depredation by animals ranging from wolves to ravens.

Its agents have been contracted by Fish and Game to kill wolves in the North Fork of the Clearwater River watershed. They killed 23 wolves earlier this month from a helicopter, using an estimated $30,000 in sportsmen dollars - with approval as required by the two federal laws.

Republican Sen. Bert Brackett, a Rogerson rancher who was one of the sponsors of the wolf control bill, told the Legislature that nonlethal control measures to prevent livestock losses also could be financed with the $110,000 that comes from Fish and Game.

Wolves are managed as a big-game species in Idaho, but the population has declined by as much as 40 percent since its 2009 peak of about 850, due to increased hunting and trapping, as well as federal control actions.

Editor's note: This story has been corrected from its original published version. Wolves are managed as a big-game species in Idaho, not as a trophy species.

Rocky Barker: 377-6484

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