What's wrong with Idaho? The state demanded from the federal government the opportunity to manage wolves within their borders and they are now completely blowing it. Instead of continued recovery, what we're seeing is no less than a war on wolves.
Make no mistake: it's Idaho's elected officials who are leading the charge against wolves. By implementing ever escalating wolf killing programs and ramping up the anti-wolf rhetoric to new heights, they are being successful in creating a destructive culture of wolf hatred and fear in the state based on myth and hype.
A prime example is Governor Otter's recently established "wolf control board" to implement widespread wolf killing throughout the state. Apparently the zeal with which the Idaho Department of Fish and Game was killing wolves was not near good enough for the Governor, so he and the state legislature created an independent entity whose sole focus is the killing of wolves. This sounds like a predator "management" strategy from the 1800's, not the 21st century. The five-member control board is charged with killing hundreds of Idaho's wolves, driving Idaho's current estimated wolf population of 659 down to as low as 150 animals. If any other wildlife population dropped as low as Idaho is planning to drop its wolf population, it would be a prime candidate for federal protection under the Endangered Species Act. With this latest move, Governor Otter is showing that he will stop at nothing to bring the wolf population down as low as possible in his state.
But Governor Otter's wolf control board is just one arrow in the state's quiver of wolf killing programs. Since December, Idaho state officials have authorized concealed aerial gunning programs, paid contractors to attempt to kill entire wolf packs in designated wilderness areas, allowed competitive wolf killing derbies to take place and liberalized hunting and trapping regulations to kill as many wolves as possible as fast as they can. According to Idaho Department of Fish and Game's annual population count released last week, a total of 473 wolves were killed by people in 2013, resulting in a 9 percent decline in the population. Since wolves were delisted in 2009 by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Idaho has seen a 23 percent decline in its wolf population, and the reported number of successful breeding pairs in Idaho has declined by 59 percent.
Idaho is just getting started. The full effect of their new wolf-killing policies -- like Governor Otter's wolf control board or Idaho Department of Fish and Game's new predation management plan - which calls for killing up to 60 percent of the wolves living in the heart of the federally designated Frank Church Wilderness area - have yet to be felt. With these aggressive tactics in place, Idaho state officials are openly predicting a dramatic decline in Idaho's wolf population.
This is one of the reasons why Defenders has now requested that Department of the Interior Secretary Sally Jewell initiate an immediate status review of gray wolves in the Northern Rockies as a first step to determine whether the species should be relisted under the Endangered Species Act in that region.
Idaho's continued acceleration of wolf killing as a management strategy is institutionalizing a culture of wolf hatred and irresponsible wildlife management. And it clearly raises serious concerns about the state's ability to sustainably manage the species amidst such a climate of hostility. Acts that normally would fall well outside the bounds of fair chase and responsible hunting ethics are now being touted as justified and routine. First, it was county employees who began taking matters into their own hands. A sheriff and his staff created the "shoot, shovel and shut up" raffle publicly condoning vigilante killing of wolves at a time when they were still protected under federal law. Next, a Forest Service employee posted pictures of himself posed in front of a leg hold trapped and injured wolf in a circle of snow soaked in blood before he killed it. After these acts were met with resounding silence from state and federal wildlife managers, the floodgates opened. It is truly unfortunate to now see the number of social media sites promoting brutal wolf killing, for example: Idaho against the Gray Wolves ; Kill the Wolves ; Kill all the wolves (every last worthless vermin wolf!); Wolves Are Profane Vermin Not Scared Animals ; The Only Good Wolf is A Dead Wolf. And this vigilante attitude is spreading across wolf country. In Wyoming wolf extremists are posting pictures of themselves in white hoods with dead wolves, earning them shockingly favorable comparisons to the KKK. Another strapped a dead wolf carcass to the top of his car and parked it in a local town square, then called the press, to attract more attention.
We must combat the notion that what Idaho is resorting to is traditional or responsible "wildlife management" before other states follow their lead. Washington, Oregon and hopefully, California have an important opportunity to manage wolves in a more principled, ethical and sustainable manner. These states should continue to focus on wolf management solutions that promote proven methods for people and predators to coexist, instead of archaic strategies that focus exclusively on killing as many wolves as possible.
Thankfully, there are programs in place that do just this, even in Idaho. For example, working with ranchers and local officials in Idaho's Blaine County, Defenders has pioneered practical solutions to reduce livestock losses to wolves and other predators. Using non-lethal deterrents like fladry, range riders and electric fencing, we have developed programs that dramatically reduce or eliminate livestock losses and build social acceptance for wolves. We have proven that non-lethal wolf management strategies work better over the long term in reducing wolf/livestock conflicts than simply killing wolves.
Idaho is demonstrating to us all that in the end, they are not capable of or interested in managing wolves responsibly. It would be an enormous tragedy if we saw this type of behavior move beyond Idaho to other states if this war on wolves is allowed to persist. It doesn't speak well of us at all if this is how we want to be seen as stewards of our natural resources legacy.
After being persecuted for centuries, wolves deserve a better future in this country and in Idaho in particular.