Paying government sharpshooters to kill wolves from helicopters in Idaho’s backcountry drew passionate testimony at the state Fish and Game Commission meeting in Coeur d’Alene this week.
Many speakers said they didn’t support the use of taxpayer dollars to kill wolves, particularly when the goal is to keep wolves from eating elk.
Twenty wolves were killed in February as part of ongoing efforts by the Idaho Department of Fish and Game to rebuild the struggling Lolo elk herd, which has dropped from 16,000 animals to less than 1,000 over the past 25 years. While habitat changes were a major driver of the decline, agency officials say wolves contribute to low survival rates for elk calves. More than 60 wolves have been killed in the Lolo region over the past three years.
It’s absurd to penalize wolves for eating their natural prey, Brett Haverstick, outreach coordinator for the nonprofit Friends of the Clearwater, told the commission.
North-central Idaho contains some of the Lower 48’s best habitat for large predators, he said. It’s a place where natural processes should be allowed to play out, Haverstick said.
The Idaho Legislature appropriated an additional $400,000 this spring for the state’s wolf control board, which also receives funding from livestock producers and the state Department of Fish and Game.
As an agency, Fish and Game only has direct control over how the $110,000 it contributes to the wolf control board is spent, said Brad Compton, assistance chief of wildlife. Fish and Game money goes toward culling wolves in areas where the agency wants to reduce predation on other wildlife populations, he said.
“Everyone knows that wolf management requires managing conflict,” said Ed Schriever, Fish and Game’s deputy director of field operations.
Sometimes that requires killing wolves to achieve other goals, he said.
The state has spent about $413,000 on wolf removal activities during the current fiscal year, giving the wolf control board a cash balance of about $579,000. State officials contract with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services for control actions. Wildlife Services will provide an update next week on the number of Idaho wolves killed and the cost.
The federal government used to spend about $600,000 to $700,000 annually on wolf control in Idaho before the state took over management, Compton said.
Amid heated testimony, Leland Olson, of Rathdrum, encouraged local residents with opposing views to keep talking respectfully about the issue. Don’t stoop to the nastiness that too often characterizes political discussion, Olson said.
“We need to manage them both,” he said of wolves and elk. “We need to work together.”
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