Friday, October 21, 2016

ID Legislative candidates sound off on wolf-kill funding

Legislature authorizes $400,000 for lethal wolf-control measures
Posted: Wednesday, October 19, 2016


    State-funded wolf kills in Idaho elicit strong opinions from voters in District 26, which has an ideological balance between liberal-leaning Blaine County and the more conservative Camas, Lincoln and Gooding counties.
    Ketchum residents on a hike might perceive a wolf sighting to be a rare treat; experts estimate about 1,900 wolves live in the northwestern U.S., including a small number around the Wood River Valley.
    Alternatively, sheep ranchers might consider a wolf a menace to their livestock, while a hunter might see the animals as potential trophy kills.

Background

    This month, candidates for seats representing District 26 in the Legislature provided their stances on the issue of wolves in central Idaho, as well as the state-funded lethal control measures.
    During the most recent legislative session, the Legislature agreed to provide $400,000 to a wolf control fund, which was the third straight year lawmakers have authorized such funding.
    The fund was started in 2014, and provides money to the Idaho Department of Fish and Game to kill wolves.
    Wolves were reintroduced in the U.S. in Idaho in 1995, after they were wiped out in the early 20th century.
    In 2011, wolves in Idaho were taken off the endangered species list, and some 2,200 have been killed since then. However, the population overall has remained near peak levels. The Department of Fish and Game reported that 770 wolves were living in Idaho in 2014. At the end of 2015, the figure was 786 wolves, according to the department.
    That’s near the 846 wolves that lived here in 2008, prior to delisting.
    The state found 108 packs living in Idaho last year, and documented 358 deaths. That included 256 killed by hunters and 75 killed using state-funded measures.
    Fish and Game reported that 54 of the 75 were because of attacks on livestock, and were carried out either by Wildlife Services or by landowners in defense of their property or livestock. Another 21 wolves were killed in northern Idaho to mitigate impacts on ungulate populations.
    Livestock depredation has also recently declined; attacks on sheep fell from 407 to 135 between 2012 and 2015, a 67 percent drop, according to Wildlife Services. Depredations on cattle fell from 100 to 53, a 47 percent decline.
    The funding for this fiscal year includes the $400,000 appropriation, $100,000 from livestock assessments and $110,000 derived from fees for hunting licenses in Idaho. Another $360,000 was anticipated to be left over from the fiscal 2016 budget, which would be carried over to the next budget, for a total of about $1 million.

Senate candidates

    Bellevue Republican Dale Ewersen, who is challenging Senate Minority Leader Michelle Stennett, D-Ketchum, said he supports the state funding.
    He would vote to continue the state-funded kills, and believes they were effective in reducing livestock depredations.
    “It seems to be working,” Ewersen said. “Wolf depredation on livestock was down considerably statewide.”
    Ewersen said wolf populations have grown dramatically, and it was creating conflicts with farmers and ranchers who tend livestock.
    “At this point, I can support the state’s funding of that effort,” he said. “When they were reintroduced, the numbers increased far more rapidly than anyone thought they would. I think it caught them by surprise. I think that there’s a leveling off in the population.”
    Stennett said she feels that too much money was devoted to wolf killings, and was detracting from other state funding needs such as education, healthcare and transportation infrastructure. She noted that the wolf control fund also receives money from licenses and the assessments, and that she voted no on this year’s allocation.
    “It’s fiscally irresponsible,” Stennett said. “In my opinion, they have enough.”

House Seat A

    Rep. Steve Miller, R-Fairfield, is running against Hailey Democrat Kathleen Eder for the District 26 House of Representatives position A seat.
    Miller also sits on the Joint Finance and Appropriations Committee, which controls the purse strings on the state budget. Miller voted to authorize the $400,000 this year.
    It’s the third year of a five-year spending program, with $2 million in total planned. Miller said he would be looking to see what Fish and Game reports in the upcoming legislative session before deciding if the money should be reauthorized.
    He said this year is going to be crucial, as the program is hitting its midway point, and Wildlife Services has had time to properly plan and carry out those plans.
    “It’s more important to focus on the degradation and damage on livestock,” he said. “There just needs to be balance.”
    But he said he wants to know how effectively Fish and Game spent this year’s allocation, and what the effect on livestock depredation was.
    “There will always be control issues,” he said. “That wolf will always be at the top of the food chain in Idaho. I suspect there will always be a need [for lethal control].”
    Eder questioned the funding, and why Fish and Game wasn’t spending the full amount authorized. She said elk populations in Idaho are healthy, and noted that many elk in the Wood River Valley died last winter at a Fish and Game feeding site northwest of Ketchum.
    “We have plenty of elk out there,” she said. “We’re not worried about protecting the elk. We’re worried about feeding the elk.”
    Eder said lethal measures should only be needed in response to a direct attack on livestock. She questioned investing $400,000 every year, given the needs for education statewide.
    “I don’t think you can build up a trust fund for that purpose,” she said. “We talk about not having enough money in Idaho for education.”

House Seat B

    Gooding Democrat Sally Toone, who is running against Republican Alex Sutter for an the open House of Representatives Seat B in District 26, agrees with Eder.
    She said Idaho funds a student’s education for $6,000 each year. She said the state should use nonlethal as well lethal methods to manage wolves, but noted that wolves are not the only predators to livestock. Mountain lions and coyotes are also threats.
    “They need to be managed,” she said. “We’ve had problems with mountain lions and livestock.”
    Toone said she would consider reducing the amount of money spent on lethal methods.  
    “It hasn’t been used to its fullest extent,” she said.
    Sutter said the money spent on lethal control needs to be considered in the context of monetary losses to farmers and ranchers due to wolves.
    “I support the reduction of the wolf population in general,” he said. “I think it’s been a painful process for farmers and ranchers in Idaho. If the federal government isn’t going to control them, I guess we’re going to do that as a state. [Spending] $400,000 in comparison to economic damage is small.”


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