Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Idaho lawmakers vote to renew #wolf-kill program funds

By Betsy Z. Russell
 
BOISE – Idaho lawmakers voted Tuesday to spend another $400,000 in state tax funds next year to kill wolves under a year-old program.

The vote came a day after the Idaho Department of Fish and Game announced that 19 wolves were killed in the Lolo zone in February as part of the effort.

The Legislature last year, at the request of Gov. Butch Otter, set up a five-member Wolf Depredation Control Board under the governor’s office and allocated it $400,000 to kill problem wolves that harassed livestock or wildlife.

Tuesday’s funding vote for next year drew just two “no” votes, from Reps. Phylis King and John Gannon, both Boise Democrats. King called it “a colossal waste of money” and said, “I’d much rather spend my money on schools, guardian ad litem, any other program.” Gannon questioned whether lawmakers were giving the program more than it could spend.

But 17 of the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee’s members backed the funding. The new Wolf Depredation Control Board was responsible for killing another 31 wolves between July 1 and Jan. 1, at a cost of $140,000; all of those wolves were attacking livestock. Last month, after hearing the figures, committee members noted that was roughly $4,600 per wolf. Cost estimates aren’t in yet on the latest operation in the Lolo zone, which is mostly in Clearwater and Idaho counties.

In the February operation, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service personnel conducted aerial operations in the rugged zone to shoot the wolves as part of an effort to ease pressure on elk herds in the area.
Six members of the Idaho Legislature’s joint budget committee, led by Sens. Roy Lacey of Pocatello and Sheryl Nuxoll of Cottonwood, backed an alternate plan to allocate just $270,000 for wolf killing next year, saying the board isn’t expected to go through its first $400,000 this year.

But that move fell short. Sen. Steve Bair, R-Blackfoot, proposed the full $400,000.

“The state of Idaho … made a commitment that we would spend a large amount of money over a number of years, and that commitment comes out to about $400,000 a year,” Bair said.

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