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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Idaho’s new wolf law has prompted a petition that could re-list the animals as endangered

A wolf leaps across a road into the wilds of central Idaho in January 1995. The state now has an estimated 1,500 wolves.  (Doug Pizac)
By Nicole Blanchard The Idaho Statesman

Critics of an Idaho wolf law approved earlier this month have launched a petition that could reinstate Endangered Species Act protections for wolves that were lifted a decade ago.

The Humane Society of the United States, Humane Society Legislative Fund, Sierra Club and Center for Biological Diversity announced Wednesday that they petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to reinstate protections for wolves in a move prompted by laws in Idaho and Montana.

“The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service cannot stand by while Idaho and Montana order the extermination of wolves to appease the livestock industry and trophy hunters,” said Nicholas Arrivo, managing attorney for wildlife at the Humane Society of the United States, in the news release. “The agency must follow its obligation to reinstate federal protections, or risk wolves disappearing from the West again.”

Petitioners say they were prompted by Idaho Senate Bill 1211, which was introduced in early May, swiftly passed through the Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Brad Little on May 10. The law expands wolf killing opportunities in the state, removing the current 15-per-year wolf limit on hunting and trapping. It also allows the Idaho Wolf Depredation Control Board to hire private contractors to kill wolves they deem a threat to livestock or wildlife.

The Idaho Statesman has reached out to the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Van Burtenshaw, R-Terreton, for comment.

Idaho wolf law was controversial, heavily criticized

The law was met with numerous criticisms and was characterized as an effort to kill 90% of the state’s wolf population, which Fish and Game estimates is around 1,500. It was also opposed by the Idaho Fish and Game Commission, which has set hunting seasons and rules in Idaho for nearly a century. Other critics included hunters, hunting groups and wildlife biologists and managers.

Suzanne Stone, founder and executive director of the International Wildlife Coexistence Network, told the Statesman in a phone interview that she doesn’t think this will be the first challenge to Idaho’s law.

“I think this is going to be one of many petitions that will be coming forward as there are a lot of people who are concerned about Idaho’s violation of its agreement to manage wolves the way we manage bears and mountain lions,” said Stone, who is based in Boise.

Stone was among the individuals who signed an open letter urging Little to veto the bill. The letter raised concerns that the law could trigger sending wolf management back to the federal government by changing the terms under which Idaho took management of wolves.

Stone said she felt the Idaho Legislature “cried wolf” in its discussions of livestock depredation to justify the law. Stone said only a fraction of the state’s 2.73 million cows and sheep are killed by wolves each year and claimed it costs the state more to kill wolves than it would to compensate ranchers for their lost livestock. She also said legislators have not put money toward non-lethal depredation solutions, like those Stone uses in her work at the Wood River Wolf Project.

“It seems like this (law) isn’t about the livestock,” Stone said. “It seems like it’s about eradicating wolves from the Western landscape.”

Petitioners also criticized a recent Montana wolf law: House Bill 224, signed into law on April 8 by Gov. Greg Gianforte. The law expands hunting and trapping seasons for wolves in Montana.

Stone said both laws show that neither state has upheld its agreement with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service when it comes to wolf management.

“I think it’s clear that Idaho and now Montana have lost their privilege when it comes to managing wolves,” she said. “I don’t think you can trust states that have gone back on their word.”