Is it the government’s job to make Idaho safe for cows and sheep? Should the government reduce swaths of wild Idaho to feedlots and reduce the service of public lands to meat manufacturing?
State Sen. Bert Brackett apparently thinks so. Brackett is a rancher who wants the Legislature to approve a bill that would create “wolf-free” zones in the state. The proposed zones have few or no wolves in them, and Brackett wants to keep it that way.
However, the bill would affect more than zones already free from wolves. It would also qualify 19 hunting areas where wolves operate as “chronic depredation zones.” The zones would be those in which a government agency has confirmed wolf attacks on livestock in four of five consecutive years.
The bill would allow year-round hunting of wolves in the wolf-free and chronic-depredation zones. It would mean that wolves could be hunted during times of breeding and whelping, which is considered unethical by hunters of most other species.
If Brackett succeeds, can it be long before the state moves to make wildlands safe for Fido and Fluffy? After all, domestic pets are a big industry, too.
In practice, Brackett’s bill would remove a large hunk of the responsibility for science-
based wolf management from the Idaho Department of Fish and Game and put it in the hands of untrained citizen legislators. It would circumvent the separate and well-funded Wolf Depredation Control Board that contracts with a federal agency for lethal wolf control actions.
Brackett claims that his bill is necessary because wolf predation threatens the livelihoods of ranchers that run livestock on public lands shared by wolves.
Federal officials say there were 175 wolf attacks on livestock in Idaho in the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2019, a record high. Hunters, trappers and ranchers killed an estimated 460 wolves in the same time period. The newest fiscal year has seen fewer attacks.
The problem with citizen-based wildlife management is its unintended consequences. While science-based management isn’t immune to such consequences, its track record is far better than industry-backed policies driven by the fear and superstition that surrounds wolves.
Brackett’s bill doesn’t acknowledge the predator pecking order with wolves and mountain lions at the top followed by bears, coyotes, foxes, bobcats and other smaller predators. When wolves move in, mountain lions change their ranges and behaviors. Coyote numbers decline.
If Brackett succeeds, the only wild left in Idaho may be a hot Saturday night in downtown Boise.