21-07-21 wolves courtesy.jpg

About 1,500 gray wolves roam Idaho, according to Fish and Game. Over 90 percent of the state’s gray wolf population “may be disposed of by any federal agency, state agency or private contractor,” according to a new law that went into effect this month.

Hailey-based Western Watersheds Project on Monday joined 10 other wildlife groups in filing a notice of intent to sue Idaho over its new wolf hunting regulations, citing “substantial” risk to other federally protected species.

Idaho’s newest wolf hunting law, effective July 1, was signed by Gov. Brad Little in May. It authorizes hunters and private contractors to kill an unlimited number of gray wolves, allowing for the eradication of more than 90% of state’s wolf population.

A maximum of 1,560 gray wolves roamed Idaho last summer, according to the Idaho Department of Fish and Game. The wolf law was passed with the goal of reducing wolf attacks on sheep and cattle and improving elk hunting, as many elk hunters told legislators this spring that they had been forced to compete with wolves.

“I represent our cattlemen, our woolgrowers and outfitters,” bill sponsor Van Burtenshaw, R-Terreton, said at the time. “This bill has been crafted by them.”

The new wolf legislation also allows hunters to pursue wolves from ATVs, snowmobiles and other motorized vehicles and use any method, including baiting and aerial gunning, at any time of day. It directs $800,000 to the Idaho Wolf Depredation Control Board, a state agency that uses taxpayer dollars and funding from Fish and Game to finance lethal wolf-control operations and help compensate ranchers for livestock killed by wolves.

On Monday, the group of 11 wildlife nonprofits contended in their letter of intent to sue that Idaho’s “liberalized trapping of wolves” will lead to the killing of non-target, federally protected species such as lynx and grizzly bears.

“We know that traps and snares frequently capture, injure, and kill non-target animals. Flooding known lynx and grizzly habitat with yet more trapping activity will result in significant collateral damage to these federally protected species,” said Ben Scrimshaw, an attorney for Earthjustice, one of the participating groups.

Suzanne Stone, director of the local Wood River Wolf Project and the International Wildlife Coexistence Network, remarked that Idaho is one of the only states with an intact ecosystem where wildlife “is afforded refuge from the pressures of our modern world.”

“Allowing reckless killing of these species in their habitat on our national forests goes against everything that most Idahoans and the American people value on our public lands,” she said.

Patrick Kelly, Idaho director for the Western Watersheds Project, agreed.

“Idaho’s outdated plans for wolf killing will inevitably harm other native wildlife species. It’s unacceptable to allow imperiled species to be ‘collateral damage’ in Idaho’s war on wolves,” he said.

Idaho now has 60 days to respond to the notice.

Long before the wolf law passed, voices in Blaine County and Ada County slammed the measure. The Blaine County commissioners, for example, urged Gov. Little to veto the bill, writing in a letter that it ignored “the fact that the state’s elk herds keep growing, livestock depredation is minimal, and the state is paying millions of dollars to ranchers for hay depredation” and “the fact that there are programs to address wolf and livestock conflicts with non-lethal methods.”

Other high-profile figures have lambasted the bill. On July 2, Leonardo DiCaprio took to Twitter to express his disapproval.

“Yesterday, Idaho began an eradication campaign that could slash the number of gray wolves living in the state by 90%,” DiCaprio wrote. “I support the 400 scientists asking [President Biden] and [Interior Secretary] Deb Haaland to protect gray wolves in the Northern Rockies and relist wolves under the Endangered Species Act.”

Email the writer: ejones@mtexpress.com

Load comments