Saturday, March 12, 2016

Idaho's Wolves

 Idaho's finance committee just approved using another $400,000 in taxpayer money to kill wolves.
This is the third year they've allocated this much money, but they haven't even used most of the money in past years. Representative Burtenshaw argued that they need another $400k because "you get in a helicopter in the air to hunt these wolves and it’s expensive."

Already during 2016, Idaho Fish and Game has shot 23 wolves from helicopters on national forest (public) land. Keep in mind, those "problem" wolves weren't shot because they were killing domestic livestock - they were killed because they were killing elk, wolves' natural prey. Last year, Idaho killed 72 wolves for "preying on livestock or wildlife," and in the winter of 2013/2014 the state hired a professional to snare two wolf packs in the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness in order to artificially boost elk populations. Wilderness, as defined by the National Park Service, is supposed to be "an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man...which is protected and managed so as to preserve its natural conditions." 

During the aerial killing programs, aerial sharpshooters need to locate the wolves from helicopters. They do this by tracking the signals of the wolves with radio collars. Sometimes these wolves were collared for research, but sometimes they are collared specifically so that they can later lead the helicopters to their packs. After the sharpshooters have killed as many members of that wolf's family as they can, they leave the collared wolf alive. The hope is that this collared wolf will later join up with other wolves or form its own pack, and the helicopters can come back the next year, using the  collared wolf to track down and kill its family yet again. Conceivably, this collared wolf could go year after year watching its pack die, oblivious that it is the one leading the helicopters straight to them. These wolves are sometimes called "Judas" wolves. A similar system is used to cull wolves in British Columbia and other areas.

 Idaho hopes to reduce their wolf population as much as they can without wolves being re-listed as an endangered species (re-listing would mean that wolves would be protected from public hunting). There is currently an extremely liberal wolf hunting, trapping, and snaring season - with no harvest limit in most of the state - in addition to the government killing programs. One person can buy 5 wolf trapping tags and 5 wolf hunting tags - meaning one person could legally kill 10 wolves during the season.

 Politicians have written the "Wolf Control Board" funding so that the money can ONLY be used for "lethal control" of wolves. None of the money can be used to help ranchers implement nonlethal, proactive deterrents to protect their livestock from wolves, or to compensate ranchers for any potential losses due to wolves.

And while the Idaho government is spending all this taxpayer money to kill wolves, Idaho ranks 49th in the United States on school spending and 46th on education overall. Makes you wonder if that $400,000 per year could be better spent on educating Idaho's kids. Or, if they really want to help elk populations, they could work on habitat restoration after fires, action against invasive plant species, or limiting human development in elk habitat; and if they really want to help ranchers deal with wolves, they could put that money towards training wildlife conflict specialists and providing ranchers with tools to successfully live alongside wolves and wildlife.