21-07-21 wolves courtesy.jpg

Under a new law that took effect last year, over 90% of Idaho’s gray wolf population “may be disposed of by any federal agency, state agency or private contractor.”

The Idaho Wolf Depredation Control Board last Wednesday requested $392,000 in taxpayer funding to kill wolves that prey on elk, cattle and sheep beginning in July.

That money, paid into the state’s Wolf Control Fund, would be on top of the board’s proposed fiscal 2023 budget, which calls for an additional $410,000 for wolf-killing, with about $300,000 to come from the Idaho Department of Fish and Game and $110,000 from fees paid by livestock producers, including branding and wool-processing fees.

Figuring in the Wolf Control Fund’s existing balance of about $230,000, the state would have over $1 million at its disposal to kill wolves.

The five-member Idaho Wolf Depredation Control Board was created by the Legislature in 2014 to direct funding toward lethal wolf-control operations. The board includes the directors of the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Fish and Game, as well as one representative each from the hunting industry, the livestock industry and the public at large.

Idaho Department of Agriculture Deputy Director Chanel Tewalt made the $392,000 general-fund request to the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee in Boise last Wednesday.

Tewalt noted that USDA Wildlife Services confirmed 65 livestock animals were killed by wolves in Idaho between July 1, 2021, and Nov. 30, 2021, a majority on private land. Within those five months, she said the agency carried out “110 investigations for 51 livestock producers in 17 counties.” Of those investigations, Tewalt said “about 59%” were confirmed wolf kills and 37% were “possible” or “probable” wolf kills.

Tewalt added that there were 20 fewer investigations carried out in 2021 versus 2020, and complaints about wolves were down last year.

Fish and Game spokesman Roger Phillips told the Associated Press last Wednesday that the agency was finalizing its current population estimate and would release details later this month. Phillips said that since July, 266 wolves were killed—hunters in the state have killed 134 and trappers have killed 132.

Bill adjusts funding

According to Rob Sepich, budget and policy analyst for the Legislature, one change in the Wolf Control Fund’s fiscal 2023 budget is an increased payout from Fish and Game—from $110,000 last year to $300,000 this year. Sepich said the $190,000 funding increase is a direct result of Senate Bill 1211, signed by Gov. Little last year, and the nearly $200,000 jump will be entirely sourced from hunting and licensing tag sales.

Senate Bill 1211—signed into law last May—authorized hunters and private contractors to kill an unlimited number of wolves starting on July 1, 2021, allowing for the potential removal of 90% of Idaho’s gray wolf population.

In 2020, Idaho had an estimated wolf population of 1,500.

Senate Bill 1211 also allowed hunters to pursue wolves from ATVs, snowmobiles and other motorized vehicles at all times of day and kill them using any method, including baiting and aerial gunning.

One major change specified in the new law was the Wolf Depredation Control Board’s use of private contractors to kill wolves. One core contractor has been the Foundation for Wildlife Management, an organization based in Ponderay that pays trappers up to $1,000 per wolf killed.

“Wolves may be disposed of by any federal agency, state agency or private contractor,” the new law states.

Last spring, bill sponsor Sen. Van Burtenshaw, R-Terreton, said he hoped the bill would cut the state wolf population to its original 15-pack management goal. According to Fish and Game, the average pack size in Idaho is 6.4 wolves—meaning the wolf population could potentially be whittled down to 96.

Other major bill supporters included the Foundation for Wildlife Management, Idaho Trappers Association, Idaho Wool Growers Association and the Idaho Farm Bureau. Many livestock producers who spoke out in the Legislature last year said they couldn’t afford to lose more cattle and sheep to wolves, while sportsmen argued for a “free-market system” using contractors to kill wolves in a more efficient manner.

The law has seen its fair share of controversy, with criticism focused statistics showing that depredation incidents on livestock have declined in recent years. Critics have also noted that wolves, while classified as big-game animals, have not been managed like black bears, mountain lions and other predators. Others have pointed to the Hailey-based Wood River Wolf Project as proof that nonlethal deterrence is effective.

According to the Wood River Wolf Project, 30 sheep in Blaine County were killed by wolves between 2008 until 2015—an average of about four per year. That put the sheep mortality rate at between 0.01 and 0.02 percent out of the 15,000 to 25,000 sheep that graze throughout the northern county every summer. In the adjacent Fairfield Ranger District, which did not employ nonlethal methods over that time period, 300 sheep were killed by wolves. 

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