January 28, 2014 in Idaho

Lawmakers back Otter-proposed fund to kill 500 wolves

Hunt called off

Idaho wildlife managers Monday called off a professional hunter who has been killing wolves inside a federal wilderness area since last year amid an effort by advocates to persuade federal courts to halt the hunt.

Department of Fish and Wildlife officials said it was calling off the hunt, which it said was meant to bolster lackluster elk populations, after nine wolves were killed.

The state agency had planned to keep hunter Gus Thoreson, of Salmon, in the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness this winter.

Fish and Game Director Virgil Moore’s acknowledgement that Thoreson’s hunt relied on the use of the U.S. Forest Service’s backcountry airstrips and cabin had prompted strong emotions, including from wolf advocates who sued in federal court to force him to quit. Though they lost their initial bid to immediately stop his activities, foes of the hunt had appealed, arguing that Thoreson’s activities violated the 1964 Wilderness Act and other federal acts.

BOISE – Republicans promoting Gov. Butch Otter’s proposed $2 million taxpayer-financed fund to kill wolves hope the cash helps reduce Idaho’s population of these canine predators by more than 500 animals, to just 150 wolves in 15 packs.

Rep. Marc Gibbs of Grace and Sen. Bert Brackett of Rogerson on Monday told the House Resources and Conservation Committee the money set aside with Otter’s proposal, along with smaller contributions from the Idaho Department of Fish and Game and livestock producers, will bolster Idaho’s predator arsenal and help it reach a 150-wolf goal.

Idaho now has about 680 wolves, according to Fish and Game estimates in 2012.

Brackett said that even with these proposed killings, the priority remains keeping wolves from returning to federal Endangered Species Act protections that were lifted by an act of Congress in 2011. He said provided Idaho still has 150 wolves – the minimum required in a 2002 wolf management plan approved by the Idaho Legislature – the state will have a good argument should somebody file a lawsuit seeking to return the state’s wolves to federal control.

“As long as we’re within it, we still may be sued,” Brackett told the House panel. “But we’ll have a defensible line of defense.”

Wolves were reintroduced to Idaho – as well as Montana and Wyoming – in the mid-1990s after they were virtually wiped out in the West by the 1970s.

Since then, they’ve been blamed by ranchers for killing too many livestock, by hunters for killing too many elk – and Otter, for being part of a federal overreach in which he contends the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reintroduced the species over Idaho’s objections.

However, wildlife advocates said Monday the levels discussed at the House meeting, if the state were to follow through, are so low they’d likely automatically trigger renewed scrutiny by the federal government over whether wolves in Idaho deserve to be relisted.

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