Wolves are once again falling prey to misinformed political rhetoric from conservative state politicians. A new bill—SB 1211—has just been fast tracked through the Idaho Legislature that wrestles wolf management away from its state wildlife management agency in a hasty effort to decimate Idaho’s wolf population. Following suit after Montana’s recent slate of anti-wolf bills, Idaho Legislators are moving to reverse wolf recovery in the Northern Rockies. Their actions reveal the vulnerabilities recovered species can face even long after their management is turned over from the federal government to states—especially when state politicians co-opt authority over wildlife management.
This extreme bill, which has passed the Legislature and is quickly moving towards the Governor's desk, would allow hunters, trappers and private contractors to kill up to 90% of Idaho’s wolves. If it is signed into law, individuals will be allowed to kill unlimited numbers of wolves; to kill mother wolves and their pups; to chase and run over wolves with snowmobiles and ATVs; and to use night vision equipment. This carnage would be allowed nearly year-round and with little oversight by wildlife managers. Some of the wolf killing would be conducted by private contractors, and paid for using taxpayer dollars. Idaho’s recreational hunters and trappers could also be paid per wolf killed through a controversial and corrupt wolf bounty program that draws from public funds.
The legislature has left little time for anyone—including the decision-makers themselves—to evaluate the bill based on evidence rather than rhetoric. The expedited hearing process has left Idaho residents, wildlife professionals and other stakeholders out of the decision-making process. Since a veto from the Governor is the final backstop on this bill becoming law, a group of concerned wildlife biologists and managers with professional experience in Idaho submitted a last-minute letter urging the Governor to veto the bill. Even the Idaho Fish and Game Commission—which has already established extremely liberal wolf killing policies—voted to oppose this bill and noted how it oversteps expert authority.
Over the last decade, hunters, trappers and paid government agents have routinely killed between 300 and 500 wolves per year in Idaho. Recent years have trended towards 500 wolves killed—which constitutes at least one third, and as much as one half, of the total wolf population in the state. After many years of these increasingly aggressive wolf killing policies, anti-wolf Legislators continue to recite the same old grievances about wolves. Isn’t it time to reconsider the status quo rather than doubling down? Time and again, expanding lethal control of wolves has proved to be a reactionary, short-sighted strategy that comes at the expense of ecosystem health, ethics, and the public’s faith in states to manage large carnivores as a widely valued resource, rather than as villains or a mechanism for private profit.
Those who stand to profit from wolf killing have conveniently ignored evidence that wolves make surprisingly good neighbors in the grand scheme of things. Wolves cause only a tiny fraction of total livestock losses (less than 1% of all losses), and suppress coyote populations that cause far more harm to livestock operations than wolves. Hunters and trappers often claim that wolves are a direct threat to elk and other game populations, but recent elk hunting seasons in Idaho have been some of the most successful of all time. If anything, wolves in Idaho have proved their extraordinary ability to generally stay out of people’s way, while also providing important ecosystem services. Rather than striving to maintain forward progress and balance in wolf recovery, SB 1211 distorts history and science in pursuit of a political license for unfettered killing of this native mammal.
Idaho Governor Brad Little now has the opportunity to prove Idaho is capable of effective, science-based wildlife management by listening to his states’ own experts, honoring the commitments Idaho made when wolves were removed from the endangered species list, and vetoing SB 1211. This bill—especially alongside many other recent harmful wolf bills and wolf hunting debacles in the country—is damaging to the environment, unsupported by science, and flies in the face of public interest in wolf recovery. As the nation seeks to combat the greatest threats to wildlife and people today, it may be time to consider adding reckless state mismanagement of wildlife to the list—until states can prove otherwise.
If you are an Idaho resident, contact Governor Brad Little now to let him know how you feel and ask him to veto Senate Bill 1211.