Richard Savage, board member of the Idaho Wolf Depredation Control Fund, told the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee this morning that the dictionary definition of depredation is “to lay waste, plunder or ravage. This is a pretty accurate description,” he said, of what happens when wolves prey on cattle or sheep.
Gov. Butch Otter is recommending another one-time transfer from the state general fund of $400,000 to the board next year, the third such annual transfer. Savage said it’s the third installment on a five-year plan. “We feel strongly that the board is serving a need a long time in the making,” Savage told lawmakers. The board’s activities include contracts with USDA Wildlife Services, for killing problem wolves that are preying on wildlife or livestock.
“This past year, they received the fewest number of depredation complaints since 2005,” Savage said. “In my opinion, this is a far better measure of results achieved by the board than how many wolves were removed. If the presence of Wildlife Services in the field results in fewer depredations, then I believe the funding we are putting on the ground is working as intended.”
Still, he said, “Wolves are unpredictable, and can become a big problem for a livestock producer quickly.” So the board’s not requesting any decrease in funding.
In addition to the state general funds, matching funds are provided by the livestock industry and Idaho Fish & Game, up to $110,000 each.
One figure that Savage didn’t provide: How many wolves were killed in 2015, and at what cost. Sen. Sheryl Nuxoll, R-Cottonwood, asked for those figures, along with figures for 2016 so far.
Todd Grimm, state director of the USDA Wildlife Services Program for Idaho, said, “To answer the question, in 2015 we conducted 84 depredation investigations regarding wolves, involving 51 livestock producers in 15 counties. Fifty-nine turned out to be confirmed depredation. As a result, we ended up removing a total of 72 wolves last year.” He offered no information for 2016. The figure is for calendar year 2015, and includes 19 wolves killed by Idaho Fish & Game in the Lolo region last February. No wolf depredations have been reported since mid-October of 2015, according to Idaho Fish & Game.
When Nuxoll inquired again about the cost, Grimm said, “We don’t break it down by wolf.”
Savage told JFAC, “I think that dividing the number of wolves killed by the number of dollars spent is really poor math in this situation. Remember that we are a depredation board. At this point there is no way that we can put a dollar amount on the cost of depredation by wolves in Idaho.” The board doesn’t pay livestock producers for their losses; it focuses on preventing further losses, he said. “We’ve found chewed-up animals for a long time.”