Printed on: January 08, 2014

Rancher applauds gov. wolf proposal


BOISE -- Sen. Jeff Siddoway may have been the happiest man in the Idaho House of Representatives chambers Monday as Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter rolled out a proposal for $2 million in startup funds for wolf population control in Idaho.

That's because controlling Idaho's wolf population doesn't hit quite as close to home for many legislators as it does for the longtime Terreton Republican and sheep rancher.

In August, Siddoway Sheep Co. herders said they came across a gruesome scene: a pile of 176 sheep killed in a wolf attack. It's the greatest one-time loss from wolves the company has ever had. Siddoway said he hopes the Wolf Control Fund will help prevent losses like that from happening to other Idaho livestock owners.

"Anything that reduces the wolf population is a good thing," Siddoway said. "I don't think there's a person in the state that could give you an accurate estimate about how many wolves we have. All we're hoping is that if we get a reduction in numbers, that our losses are ultimately going to be less."

Otter proposed the establishment of the fund along with a five-member state board to manage it during the governor's State of the State address. The money will go to further efforts to reduce the wolf population. It will not be used to reimburse ranchers for livestock killed by wolves.

"With your unflinching support," Otter told legislators, "we were able to fight through the opposition of those who would make Idaho into a restricted-use wildlife refuge and take back control of these predators from our federal landlords."

But wolf advocates, such as the Northern Idaho Wolf Alliance, publicly decried the proposal, citing concerns about the Idaho Department of Fish and Game's recent decision to hire a hunter to control wolf populations around the Middle Fork of the Salmon River.

Siddoway said the board will be co-chaired by Fish and Game's director and the director of the Idaho Department of Agriculture. The remaining membership will be appointed by Otter and will include a representative of Idaho sportsmen, a representative of livestock owners and a member at large. That at-large member will likely represent the interests of wolf advocates, Siddoway said.

Otter's budget recommendation calls for a one-time general fund allocation of $2 million to start the fund for fiscal year 2015, with annual contributions of $110,000 from members of the livestock industry and a match from Idaho sportsmen thereafter. Some of that funding will come from hunting licensing in the state, Siddoway said.

"This three-pronged approach will provide the revenue needed to more effectively control Idaho's burgeoning wolf population and ease the impact on our livestock and wildlife," Otter said.

Siddoway agreed.

"It'll allow more people to go out and actually do the hunting and trapping," he said. "It'll finance that. Some of the work may be done aerially either by fixed-wing (aircraft) or helicopter, depending on the terrain."

Idaho law stipulates that only agencies can kill wolves aerially, not members of the public.

According to Fish and Game, 192 wolves have been harvested so far during the 2013-14 season. During the 2011-12 season, 202 wolves were killed; and 270 were harvested during the 2010-11 season.

In 2012, the agency reported 122 confirmed depredation incidents, including 90 cows, 251 sheep and four dogs for a total of 345 animals killed by wolf attack.

Sharon Kiefer, Fish and Game's deputy director for programs and policy, said the pending legislation to establish the fund was overseen by representatives of the governor's office, Fish and Game and the Idaho Department of Agriculture.

She stressed the funding would go toward wolf depredation -- not toward compensation to ranchers who lose livestock to wolves.

"This has nothing to do with compensation; this has everything to do with depredation," Kiefer said.

Sen. Steve Bair, R-Blackfoot, said sportsmen and other constituents are as concerned about controlling wolves as ranchers.

"Hunting opportunities have just disappeared in some areas because of the depredation (and loss of) some of the elk," Bair said.