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In brief: Officials kill 23 wolves in North Idaho

BOISE – Idaho wildlife officials have killed 23 wolves in North Idaho in an effort to boost the number of elk in the region.

The Idaho Fish and Game announced Friday afternoon that the animals were killed by USDA Wildlife Service agents using a helicopter in the Lolo elk zone near the Montana border. It’s the sixth time the agency has taken action to kill wolves in the Lolo zone in the past four years, bringing the total number of wolves killed there to 48.

Suzanne Stone, an Idaho spokeswoman for the wildlife advocacy group Defenders of Wildlife, said she was disappointed by the news. Stone said the state agency didn’t reveal its plans when her organization asked earlier this year about possible predation efforts in North Idaho.

Cigarette taxes may shift to water, roads

BOISE – Millions in tax revenue from Idaho cigarette sales is closer to being redirected toward Idaho’s highways and depleted aquifers.

The House voted 63-4 Friday for the measure.

For years, cigarette taxes totaling around $40 million annually helped retire bonds for the $130 million Idaho Capitol renovation.

That’s in addition to cancer programs, state buildings and juvenile probation.

But with the Capitol bonds nearly paid off, there’s a scramble for the newly available money.

According to Friday’s bill that now goes to the Senate, $5 million from taxes on smokes would fund Idaho Department of Water Resources efforts aimed at recharging the depleted Eastern Snake Plain Aquifer.

Another $4.7 million will help retire highway construction bonds.

And about $7 million that’s left over after that in 2015 will cover road maintenance.

Beartooth drilling permit gets panel’s OK

BILLINGS – State officials have given permission for a Denver-based company to drill for oil and gas along southern Montana’s Beartooth Mountains near Belfry.

The Montana Board of Oil and Gas Conservation approved the permit for Energy Corporation of America after a public hearing Thursday.

Conservation groups opposed to energy extraction in the area had sued the state board after it initially approved the permit in December without holding a hearing. That prompted the board to reverse course and hold another vote.

Denver-based ECA has announced plans to develop dozens of wells near Roscoe and Belfry along the Clarks Fork of the Yellowstone River near the Wyoming border. Brewing magnate Peter Coors is on the company’s board of directors.

Skeptics of the company’s plans warn that thousands more wells could follow, harming water resources and air quality.