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J. Dallas Gudgell: Idaho’s wolves need protection of federal relisting

J. Dallas Gudgell

By J. Dallas Gudgell

Springtime should be the best time of year for wolves. They should be snug in their dens caring for their new pups born in April. Yet, wolves are being eradicated in Idaho.

Heavy-handed Idaho law allows for unregulated and uncontrolled wolf killing using traps, neck snares, aerial gunning of whole packs and even supporting the killing of nursing pups and mothers in their dens for bounties of tens of thousands of dollars paid to wolf killers across the state. This is not hunting; it is a brutal, cruel and inhumane abuse of the state’s power over one of nature’s most persecuted species.

Interior Secretary Deb Haaland can stop this killing immediately under her authority to emergency list wolves under federal protection. Haaland and Martha Williams, the head of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are in Boise on Friday to speak with and answer questions at the Society for Environmental Journalists Annual Conference.

Williams is currently under scrutiny from 100 scientists from universities and environmental groups for not having the requisite qualifications for her job. Meanwhile, 800 scientists, including Jane Goodall, sent a letter to President Joe Biden and Haaland encouraging protections for wolves in the Northern Rockies. And former Fish and Wildlife Service director Dan Ashe spoke out in a Washington Post op-ed in support of renewed protections for wolves in the Northern Rockies.

With a stroke of pen, either Haaland or Williams could stop this killing. In fact, that is exactly what Haaland and the Fish and Wildlife Service has said they would do.

In 2009, the federal government stated in the Northern Rocky Mountain Gray Wolf final rule: “… if a State changed their regulatory framework to authorize the unlimited and unregulated taking of wolves, a condition we have previously determined threatened a wolf population, emergency listing would be immediately pursued”

In 2011, Idaho wolves were delisted and dropped from protections under the Endangered Species Act. In 2021, Idaho passed SB1211, stating, “… any method utilized for the take of any wild canine in Idaho shall be available for the taking of wolves … All Idaho wolf tags will be valid for hunting, trapping, and snaring in any unit … There shall be no limit to the number of wolf tags that an individual can purchase.”

In February 2022, Haaland was quoted in USA Today as saying, “As secretary of the Interior, I am committed to ensuring that wolves have the conservation they need to survive and thrive in the wild based on science and law.”

From July 1, 2021, to Dec. 31, 2022, 701 wolves were killed in Idaho, according to public records. Winter is a high kill time, so likely that number is more than 1,000 by now. The Nez Tribe led the wolf recovery effort in Idaho (after the state refused) from 1995 to 2008, helping bring back the tribe’s four-legged spiritual relative. At its peak, the Fish and Wildlife Service estimated Idaho’s wolf population to be between 1,500 and 2,000. In 2022, there were 1,337 wolves.

Haaland’s and Williams’ trip to Idaho this week is the best chance to appeal to them directly to stop the slaughter of wolves and institute an emergency relisting for protection under the Endangered Species Act. Calls and emails to Fish and Wildlife Service could make the difference. Hundreds of wolves have already died waiting for the federal government to act. This decision can save the last remaining wolves before they are eradicated from the state.

J. Dallas Gudgell, of Boise, is policy and tribal outreach coordinator for the International Wildlife Coexistence Network.