The Legislature’s joint budget committee has voted 18-2 to put another $400,000 in state general tax funds into the Wolf Control Depredation Board next year to kill problem wolves – even though the board has been building up a big fund balance and already will start the year with more than the $600,000 it’s budgeted to spend.
Rep. Phylis King, D-Boise, offered a substitute motion to instead zero-fund the request. “They don’t need any money this year – I think they have plenty,” she said.
The fund started the current fiscal year with $609,000 in the bank. Its expected receipts during the current year include $400,000 from the state general fund that lawmakers approved last year; $95,000 from the Idaho Department of Fish and Game; and $110,000 from brand renewals and fees. “That’s a total of $1.2 million dollars,” King said. “Their budget is $600,000. However, they’ve never spent that much money.”
King said she’s softened her stance on the wolf control program, after doing some research and learning that federal Wildlife Services investigates every domestic animal killed by wolves, and in the past year, investigated 70 animal deaths, killed 25 wolves and collared four. “I think it’s a more humane way to treat the wolves and I am beginning to feel like maybe we can continue this funding,” she said. “But this year I’d like to recommend just zero. I think they have plenty of money.”
Rep. Van Burtenshaw, R-Terreton, said lethal control of wolf packs is “used sparingly.” He said, “The reason we have excess in that account is because of the frugal nature of those that are involved in this process. However, if that wolf population is in an area that’s not accessible to ease to provide lethal force, then a helicopter has to be used to take care of that issue. And so it can cost a tremendous amount of money.”
He said, “The little bit of slush fund that is there is nothing more than people being very thrifty with the funds they have been provided. And this program sunsets in 2019. By then we will have enough science to know perhaps what it will take to manage these wolves that we have in Idaho. And I think it should be understood that the livestock people violently opposed the reintroduction of wolves. And now they’re paying to take care of those depredation claims. And I think it’s unfair to them to have to deal with this nuisance. … I think it needs to continue with the state the way it was agreed upon originally.”
Sen. Abby Lee, R-Fruitland, said, “I absolutely agree that now is not the time to reduce funding in this account. In fact, there is a little frustration that there was some conservative allocation of these dollars.”
King’s motion, which was seconded by Sen. Fred Martin, R-Boise, failed on a 6-14 vote; it was supported by Reps. Melissa Wintrow, D-Boise; Rick Youngblood, R-Nampa; and Sage Dixon, R-Ponderay; and Sen. Mark Nye, D-Pocatello; in addition to King and Martin.
Burtenshaw’s motion, to grant another $400,000 next year, then passed on an 18-2 vote, with just King and Wintrow dissenting. The budget set by the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee still needs passage in the House and Senate and the governor’s signature to become law, but budgets rarely change once they’re set by the joint committee.