The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agreed Friday to consider giving ranchers more leeway to kill wolves threatening their herds in Idaho and the rest of the tri-state wolf recovery area.
Assistant Regional Director Paul Gertler also said the number of wolf packs needed to remove the predator from the endangered species list might be reduced, although a recovery expert discounted that prospect.
Gertler met with ranchers and others during a “wolf summit” organized by Republican Sen. Conrad Burns of Montana to discuss problems with the two-year campaign to reintroduce wolves in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming.
Livestock producers are angry over the financial threat they face from wolves in the recovery areas of the central Idaho wilderness, northwestern Montana and Yellowstone National Park.
“These wolves did not stay where they were put,” Montana cattleman Joe Helle said. “They came out as killer packs. We’re not in the business of feeding these predators.”
The Defenders of Wildlife are paying ranchers when they lose cattle or sheep to wolves in an effort to soften the impact of reintroduction.
But spokesman Hank Fischer warned that making it easier for ranchers to kill wolves without proof the animals have attacked livestock could just delay the time when wolf populations have recovered enough to no longer require protection as an endangered species.
Gertler agreed. The need to protect livestock has to be balanced against the mandate to create viable wolf populations, he said.
The federal goal is 10 breeding pairs of wolves for three successive years in each of the recovery areas. Once reached, the wolf would no longer be considered endangered, and management of the animal would be turned over to the states.
Although his agency can review those targets, Ed Bangs, federal wolf recovery coordinator, cautioned that scientific research suggests that the numbers actually should be higher to sustain a wolf population.