BOISE, Idaho -- Nearly 30 retired state, federal and tribal wildlife managers sent a letter Wednesday to Idaho Republican Gov. Brad Little asking him to veto a bill backed by agricultural interests that could cut the state's wolf population by 90%.
The former workers at the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Bureau of Land Management, Nez Perce Tribe, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, University of Idaho and U.S. Forest Service say the methods for killing wolves allowed in the measure violate longstanding wildlife management practices and sportsmen ethics.
Those methods include the hunting, trapping and snaring of an unlimited number of wolves on a single hunting tag, and allowing hunters to chase down wolves on snowmobiles and ATVs. The measure also allows, on private land, the killing of newborn pups and nursing mothers.
“Sportsmen and wildlife managers in Idaho and around the world have long opposed unethical practices like these, since they violate ‘fair-chase’ principles giving hunters an improper advantage over wildlife,” the group wrote in the letter, which was obtained by The Associated Press.
But backers say the changes to Idaho law could help reduce the wolf population from about 1,500 to 150, alleviating wolf attacks on cattle, sheep and wildlife. Cattle and sheep ranchers say they lose hundreds of thousands of dollars a year.
Little, whose family has a long history with sheep ranching in Idaho, has not said what he will do with the bill.
A primary change in the new law is the hiring of private contractors to kill wolves, a change the Idaho Cattle Association said it supports because it allows the free-market system to play a role in killing wolves.
The legislation includes increasing the amount of money the Idaho Department of Fish and Game sends to the Idaho Wolf Depredation Control board from $110,000 to $300,000. The board, created in 2014, is an agency within the governor’s office that manages state money it receives to kill wolves.
The Idaho Department of Fish and Game reported in February that the wolf population has been holding at about 1,500 the past two years. The numbers were derived by using remote cameras and other methods.
About 500 wolves have been killed in the state in each of the last two years by hunters, trappers and wolf-control measures carried out by state and federal authorities.
The retired wildlife managers also said the measure undermines the Idaho Fish and Game Commission because it removes wildlife management decisions from the commission and its experts, placing the decisions instead with politicians. The commission opposes the measure.
Finally, the letter states that the proposed law threatens an agreement Idaho officials made with the federal government to manage wolves in 2002.
Idaho’s 2002 wolf conservation and management plan calls for at least 150 wolves and 15 packs in Idaho. Backers of the measure have said the state is allowed to increase the killing of wolves to reach that level.
According to the plan, if Idaho’s wolf population fell to 100, there is a possibility the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service could resume management of its wolf population. The 2002 document says wolf management could revert to what was in place when wolves were listed under the federal Endangered Species Act.
The group also said that livestock losses to wolves are under 1% for cattle and 3% for sheep, as foreseen by the wolf reintroduction plan.
The group also notes that, according to the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, the overall elk population has increased in Idaho the last 25 years, not declined, since wolves were reintroduced.