Friday, October 22, 2010

Otter’s wrong to quit the wolf game

Gov. Butch Otter's election-season grandstanding on wolves leaves ranchers who suffer depredation with nowhere to turn, leaves sportsmen and women totally handcuffed on wolf management and wrongly pastes a bull's-eye on wolves by directing state law enforcement not to respond to illegal kills.

Otter's "we're-afraid-of-the-Big-Bad-Wolf" move is poor policy, bad politics and an unseemly wink and a nod by a public official sworn to uphold the law to those who might consider taking wolf management into their own hands. (Note to the wild-eyed: It's not legal to kill a wolf and anyone who does may be arrested and prosecuted under federal law.)

Otter is mad at U.S. District Court Judge Donald Molloy for refusing to allow Idaho and Montana to go forward with federally approved wolf management plans even when Wyoming balked.

The judge's decision returned wolves to the protection of the Endangered Species Act. Otter's decision leaves wolf management in limbo.

Prior to the judge's decision, wolf management had moved from the Department of the Interior to the state of Idaho. Now, Otter has packed up the state's gear, left the field in a sulk and left the people of Idaho with no notice and nowhere to turn.

Otter's ink-on-paper tantrum was conveniently timed with less than two weeks to go before an election in a state where voters begin to froth at the mouth when the words "federal" and "wolf" are uttered. The response is always strange given that Idahoans have no problem being big beneficiaries of federal largesse and that the vast majority of us will never see a wolf.

Otter's letter to Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar is disingenuous.

The governor wrote, "Additionally, this approach does not ask Idahoans who continue suffering wolves—especially sportsmen—to subsidize any part of this federal program or bear the risk or burden of inadequate federal funding in the future."

Idaho sportsmen pay license fees to the Idaho Department of Fish and Game and do indeed subsidize wolf management. However, Idahoans who do not buy licenses don't pay a dime because the Idaho Legislature for generations has refused to allocate any general tax dollars to wildlife management. They've preferred instead to force the people who really care about wildlife—hunters and fishermen—to carry the entire load.

Otter wrote that he's committed to finding a way to delist wolves and return them to state management.

If that were true, he would have stayed in the game and would be campaigning for true state funding for wildlife.

No game was ever won by a quitter.

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