State Politics

Idaho board that pays to kill wolves that prey on livestock, elk could soon be permanent

An Idaho board that pays a federal agency to kill wolves that attack livestock and elk is a step closer to becoming permanent following a Senate panel’s split vote on Monday.

The Senate Resources and Environment Committee voted to send legislation to the full Senate repealing a section of Idaho law that would end the five-year-run of the Idaho Wolf Depredation Control Board.

The seven Republicans on the committee voted in favor of the legislation, and two Democrats voted against it.

In his request to keep the board operating and get taxpayer dollars, board member Carl Rey told lawmakers the board in fiscal 2018 spent about $136,000 more than it took in. Rey previously said in a budget hearing before another committee that the board spent $765,000 that year.

“This bill, it really only does one thing,” Rey said. “It removes the sunset provisions that were part of the original statute that created the board 2014.”

Sen. Michelle Stennett, D-Ketchum, said removing the sunset provision and not setting a limit on how much money the board can use was the problem.

“I’m a little concerned about not putting a sunset on this with a cap amount if our wish generally is to streamline and make sure agencies and departments are operating more leanly,” she said, noting the many infrastructure needs in the state.

Rey responded that lawmakers on a budget-setting panel could control future amounts the board receives.

The board has in the past received $400,000 annually from the state. Gov. Brad Little has asked the Legislature to approve $200,000 in fiscal 2020, which starts this summer.

The control board also receives money from the livestock industry that’s matched by the state Department of Fish and Game through fees paid by hunters up to a maximum of $110,000.

The board pays the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services to kill wolves that kill livestock. Fish and Game says that agency receives money back from the board that’s used for putting radio collars on wolves and monitoring wolf packs in areas where elk populations are below the agency’s objectives. Fish and Game also uses money from the board to pay Wildlife Services to kill wolves to boost elk numbers in those areas.

The Agricultural Department reported last week that in fiscal year 2018, Wildlife Services killed 83 wolves in Idaho. Of those, 73 involved livestock attacks and 10 were an effort to boost elk numbers in northern Idaho and requested by Fish and Game.

Besides wolf control actions, hunters and trappers also kill wolves. Fish and Game last week said that in calendar year 2018, hunters killed 179 wolves and trappers harvested another 133.

Jonathan Oppenheimer of the Idaho Conservation League, an environmental watchdog group, signed up to speak at the committee hearing but Chairman Lee Heider, R-Twin Falls, didn’t take public comments.

Oppenheimer after the meeting said he was going to ask the committee to insert language allowing the wolf control board to use non-lethal methods.

“The reality is that every single dollar that’s contributed to the wolf control board is required to be used for lethal control actions,” he said.

Rey during his testimony to the committee said many ranchers and farmers are already using non-lethal measures to deter wolves, but the board only uses lethal measures because it’s dealing with problem wolves.

The legislation next goes to the full Senate. If senators approve, the measure would go the House to be considered by lawmakers there.

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