BOISE – A self-described wolf fighter from central Idaho has renewed his quest to win voter support for eliminating the predators from the state after failing to get a similar measure on last November’s ballot.
Ron Gillett, a hunting outfitter from Stanley, aims to gather enough voter signatures for his initiative in time for the general election in November 2008. Like last year’s thwarted initiative, it calls for the state to end all wolf recovery efforts and to remove “all wolves reintroduced into Idaho from Canada to the extent allowed by law.”
Canadian gray wolves were brought to Idaho, starting with 35 animals in 1995 and 1996, after being hunted nearly to extinction. Since then, they’ve prospered in the state’s rugged interior, with the population growing to about 650 animals in 60 packs this year.
Gillett, who says he’ll fight until all wolves have been driven from the state, argues they’re eating too many elk and livestock and threatening the livelihoods of outfitters and ranchers.
“There’s only one way to manage wolves in Idaho, and it’s to get rid of them,” Gillett said Wednesday.
Gillett has until April 30, 2008, to gather 45,893 signatures to get his initiative on the ballot, according to the Idaho secretary of state. He failed to gather enough signatures this year to bring his measure before voters.
“This time, we will have 15 months to do it, not six weeks,” he said. “I’m telling you, we will be on the ballot.”
Jim Caswell, director of the state Office of Species Conservation, said Idaho’s wolves are currently protected by the federal Endangered Species Act, so the eradication of wolves that Gillett demands would violate the law.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has pledged to begin the process of removing ESA protections from all wolves in Idaho and Montana starting later this month. Until now, the failure of Wyoming to get its management plan approved has held up the process, but the federal government says it wants to move ahead in the two states with plans already in place.
The Idaho management plan calls for maintaining at least 15 packs. The state hopes to assume control of its wolves within 12 months.
Caswell said if Gillett’s initiative were to succeed following such a delisting, it would be a recipe for the federal government to quickly step in and resume its oversight of the predators.
“The Fish and Wildlife Service would say, ‘You no longer have adequate regulatory provisions in place,’ ” Caswell said. “If you’re now precluded from managing, you have no adequate regulatory mechanism. Therefore, wolves are at risk, and we need to put them back on the list.”