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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Statewide vote sought on removing wolves

A gray wolf in Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming is shown after being fitted with a radio collar in 2003. 
 (Associated Press file photo / The Spokesman-Review)

The Idaho Anti-Wolf Coalition wants state voters to decide the fate of wolves. The group filed a petition earlier this week to launch a ballot initiative to remove all wolves from the state “by any means possible.”

The initiative, which echoes a non-binding vote by state lawmakers five years ago, would also close the state’s office of species conservation.

“This is a mechanism for the people of the state of Idaho to show their voice and flex their muscle and get these wolves out of here,” explained Ron Gillett, a Stanley hunting outfitter who leads the coalition.

The Idaho attorney general now has 20 days to review the wording of the proposed ballot initiative. Once reviewed, Gillett and his coalition will have until May 1 to collect the necessary 47,881 signatures – 6 percent of the state’s registered voters.

Even if enough signatures are gathered, it’s not likely the initiative could overrule current federal protections of wolves, said Jim Unsworth, wildlife bureau chief for the Idaho Fish and Game Department.

The federal government plans to hand over all wolf management to the state, but this won’t happen until the state of Wyoming develops its own plan that federal officials believe will safeguard their existence.

Idaho would like to eventually manage wolves through controlled hunts, much as it manages cougar populations, Unsworth said. But the state has no intention of killing off the large canines.

Such talk doesn’t please Gillett and the Anti-Wolf Coalition. Gillett said he’s tired of hearing about how federal protections have more power than the citizens of Idaho – in 2001, the state Legislature also called for removal of wolves.

“The eco-nazis keep coming up with little roadblocks,” Gillett said.

Ten years ago, amid widespread opposition, biologists released 15 wolves in Idaho, hoping to restore a species that was officially extinct in the state. The state still officially opposes wolf recovery but reluctantly agreed to manage them in a way that ensures the survival of at least 15 packs. There are now four times that many.

Biologists estimate about 600 wolves roam Idaho – enough that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service deemed the species recovered in the state. The agency this week proposed removing wolves from the Endangered Species List in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming.

Last month, the U.S. Department of Interior signed an agreement to transfer most management authority of Idaho’s 60 wolf packs to state Fish and Game officials.