The Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee voted 15-5 today to put another $400,000 in state general tax funds into the Wolf Depredation Control Board next year to kill problem wolves – the third straight year of such expenditures – even though the board hasn’t used much of the money it’s already gotten. Sen. Dan Schmidt, D-Moscow, led an unsuccessful move to allocate just $110,000 in additional state money to the board next year, saying with the board’s existing unspent funds, that would fully cover its estimated expenses for next year.
“To me, that’s appropriate budgeting,” Schmidt said. “I understand that we want to cut back on the number of depredating wolves, but I think that’s the right amount.” In addition to the $400,000 in annual state payments, the board is receiving $110,000 each in matching funds from the livestock industry and from sportsmen through the Idaho Department of Fish & Game.
Rep. Van Burtenshaw, R-Terreton, argued for giving the wolf board another $400,000 next year. “I know it sounds like a lot of money, but you get in a helicopter in the air to hunt these wolves and it’s expensive,” Burtenshaw told JFAC.
In February, the wolf board contracted with U.S. Wildlife Services to shoot 20 wolves in the Lolo elk zone in an aerial operation. In 2015, the board killed 72 wolves. Its mission is to kill problem wolves that are preying on livestock or wildlife.
Burtenshaw told the committee, “I want to give kind of an example of what this wolf population is doing to our elk herds, our deer, our antelope, as well as our domestic livestock, sheep and cattle as well. Just for an example, in the Lolo elk herd in 1996 there were 16,000 head of elk. Today there is 1,000 head. That’s depredation. And I know about those elk because I’ve hunted ‘em since I was a boy. The last time I was there about seven years ago in the Selway River area, we never even saw a sign of ‘em. So the depredation is ongoing, it’s devastating, and if we don’t turn it back it will have a devastating effect on all our livestock and our wild game animals in the state of Idaho.”
Burtenshaw’s motion for the full $400,000 for next year passed on a 15-5 vote, with the five “no” votes coming from Schmidt; Sen. Dan Johnson, R-Lewiston; Reps. Phylis King and John Gannon, both Boise Democrats; and Sen. Sheryl Nuxoll, R-Cottonwood.
Schmidt said, “They haven’t spent everything we’ve given them. To keep putting money in when it doesn’t look like they’re using it as fast as we’re putting it in – I think we ought to be a little more responsible in how we budget. Why give people money that they aren’t spending?”
Schmidt’s motion for the lower amount was seconded by Johnson, but because Burtenshaw’s motion passed, it didn’t get a vote, and the appropriation was set at $400,000 for next year. It still needs House and Senate approval and the governor’s signature to become law, but budget bills rarely change after they’re set by the joint committee.