Month: March 2014

Idaho and Wolf Mismanagement

grey-wolf_565_600x450 Since the wolf was reintroduced into Idaho in 1995, there have been on-going disputes over their management. State officials complained about what they believed to be the federal government’s intrusion through wolf protection mandates. Idaho politicians claimed that the state could manage wolves more effectively than could the outsider “Feds”. So, in 2011, Congress handed wolf management over to Idaho. This transfer was based on Idaho’s pledge to manage wolves like other valued species and the state’s wolf population management plan that called for maintaining 518-732 wolves. However, almost immediately after federal protection was lifted, the state abandoned its wolf management plan and began instituting a series of lethal anti-wolf control measures. Suddenly, we were back to the old policies of treating wolves like vermin. Since 2011, with the strong support of Idaho politicians, led by Governor Clement “Butch” Otter, hunters and trappers have killed more than 1,000 wolves, reducing the population to around 600. Not satisfied, the 2014 legislature established Governor Otter’s Wolf Control Board — which proposes to aggressively kill wolves in Idaho. The intent of the Wolf Control Board is to kill all but 150 wolves, the bare minimum number required by the federal wolf delisting plan. The rationale for the slaughter is to protect livestock. Yet officially, wolves killed an average of only one calf and seven sheep per county in Idaho last year, and many of these losses may have been avoidable. Ken Cole in The Wildlife News reports on the Wolf Control bill:

On the last day of the Idaho Legislature, HB470, the Wolf Control Board bill, jumped its final hurdle before going to the Governor’s desk to be signed into law. The board will be funded with $400,000 from the general fund and $110,000 from the livestock industry and $110,000 from the Idaho Department of Fish and Game for a total of $640,000 annually. It is very likely that the governor will sign the bill considering it was one of the three priorities outlined in his January State of the State address. Ostensibly, the money is to replace a federal funding shortfall for USDA Wildlife Services for control of depredating wolves but several statements by its proponents in the legislature, during testimony and the to the press, indicate that the intent of the board is to reduce the Idaho wolf population to the minimum of 150 wolves and 15 breeding pairs.

As reported by Susanne Stone of the Defenders of Wildlife,

Concurrently, the Idaho Department of Fish and Game announced a new proposal to kill 60 percent of the wolves in the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness, the largest forested wilderness in the lower 48 states. Fish and Game’s plan calls for an intensive program of wolf killing through state-paid hunters and trappers in hopes of boosting the elk population for sport hunters. However, elk numbers statewide today top 100,000 and hunter harvest rates remain high among western states. Irrationally, these cumulative efforts to control wolves by sole reliance on lethal management will result in higher management costs, continued livestock losses, and unnecessary, random killing of wolves. Acknowledging that wolves are here to stay, a few stakeholders have worked collaboratively to develop better strategies to resolve conflicts by learning how to live with wolves. Nonlethal control methods — livestock carcass removal, range riders, electric fencing and guard dogs — are far more effective and cheaper options for keeping wolves away from livestock. And these nonlethal methods are already working in Idaho where they are being applied. The Wood River Wolf Project in Blaine County has successfully protected between 10,000 and 27,000 sheep annually on the Sawtooth National Forest, losing less than 25 sheep (0.04 percent) over the last six years — without having to kill a single wolf in the project area to protect livestock. Despite being one of the highest concentrations of wolves and livestock statewide, the project area has the lowest loss rate of livestock in wolf range statewide.

As could be expected, other wilderness advocates has reacted with outrage. For example, see here  and here. EarthJustice has been particularly active in attempting to halt the wolf slaughter proposed in the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness and currently has a lawsuit challenging the plan.

As an Idaho native, I am usually frustrated by the level of rhetoric and the framing of the arguments on both sides of the wolf issue. Ranchers and far right “anti-government” extremists don’t speak for me. But, on the other hand, I sometimes think Wilderness advocates who do not live here, are not hunters, and, quite probably, have never even set foot in Idaho, tend to romanticize wolves and wilderness in general. Consequently, I was pleased to receive the following letter Bill Chisholm of Buhl, Idaho, wrote to the Idaho Fish and Game. It sums up my own feelings quite well.

I believe that Idaho Fish and Game is not qualified to manage wolves in Idaho. The mindset of the agency is that the wolf is somehow an alien and enemy force, when in fact like humans it is a part of Nature. The wolf should be respected for its part in Nature and in the food chain. If on occasion it might be necessary to kill a wolf that is doing harm, it should be done with regret, not the macho bullshit that is part of the wolf haters credo. Perhaps wolves should be re-listed as they are obviously in danger from the current Idaho Fish and Game policy. I am an Idaho native and a long time Idaho activist. Sadly the State of Idaho has seldom shown itself to be the competent managers of air, land or water, because the politicos seem more concerned about the profits of the rippers, rapers and polluters than the long term viability of Idaho’s precious natural resources.

The ranchers in the middle of the state cry “Wolf” and the ranchers in the southern part of the state cry “Elk”, it seems that someone within Fish and Game would realize that the wolf is an essential part of the states landscape. No Wolves, No Wild, No Wildlife, No Wilderness, No Wild Wild West in honor of the wild.

Attuned, ethical hunters know that if the prey has lost its wild edge, then hunters too have lost their wild edge and the meat they get has lost its wild edge. Without their natural predators the survival instincts which give prey, like elk and deer, their edge diminishes… they become semi-domestic. Scientific studies have shown that the landscape suffers; grazing patterns change as do migration patterns. See http://www.nature.com/scitable/knowledge/library/keystone-species-15786127  also see Trophic cascading in Yellowstone: the first 15 years after wolf reintroduction by William J. Ripple and Robert L. Beschta, Oregon State University

The Idaho Fish and Game charter claims as “property” wildlife within Idaho’s borders. Wolfhaters have said…”Wolves are killing our wildlife.” How can something that is wild be classified as either ‘property” or “ours”? Isn’t the nature of Wild to be free of ownership? Idaho’s Governor and the Idaho Fish and Game Commission are pandering to the wishes, of those that want the easy kill without the work or the skill seek, to exterminate the wolf. The governor proposes to spend $2 million of the taxpayers’ dollars to achieve his goal. The Idaho Fish and Game Commission in cooperation with the US Forest Service is trying to eliminate two wolf packs within the Frank Church Wilderness… which certainly qualifies their action as a sacrilege.

There is a mystique of the modern macho mountain man of the West which many of the wild haters like to think of themselves. It is a farce… hunters don’t’ want the “competition” and the ranchers want to avoid the “risk”….Competition and Risk are two of the holy grails of the Wild West Priesthood.

No Wolves, No Wild, No Wildlife, No Wilderness, No Wild Wild West

 

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Ignominious Idaho

Happy vernal equinox! Spring is here and it appears likely that the Idaho State Legislature will adjourn today.

What have those distinguished lawmakers done this term? Well, they are ending the session on one of their most ignominious pieces of legislation, the budget for k-12 school funding. According to Boise Democratic Rep. John Cannon

“We have a budget that doesn’t even come close to matching the enthusiasm our public in Idaho has for education,” Gannon said. He estimates that the budget falls about $170 million short of funding levels from 2008-09, once enrollment increases, inflation and health care costs are added in. He points out that “This budget does not even come close to addressing these issues and solving problem for our schools”

In this budget there is a salary increase of 1% for teachers, matching the raise for other state employees.  Meanwhile, the top state elected officials, including the Governor, will get a 1.5% raise each of the next four years. The original plan was for a 2.5% raise, but the public outrage caused them to trim it back to 1.5% This means the Governor will make $120,785 next year. Spending on education in Idaho ranks 49th in the nation. How do school districts manage to keep their doors open? They are forced to pass supplemental tax levies. This, of course, exacerbates the inequities in schooling. The wealthier districts pass the levies while the poorer districts don’t.

jim_rischtoon3How, you may ask, did Idaho find itself in this financial fix? As the Twin Falls Times News points out, you can blame it on the Angry Gnome:

U.S. Sen. Jim Risch still lauds his 2006 initiative — the biggest political victory during his short stint as Idaho’s governor — that robbed local schools of property taxing power, tied education funding to sales tax and centralized power in Boise. And as Idaho’s starving public schools continue their race to the bottom, we can’t understand why.

“Yes, funding goes up and down based on the economy,” Risch said Friday when asked if binding educational funding to the finicky markets was a good move. “When the people have less money, the government has less money. A lot of people seem to believe that government should be held harmless.”

He admits the system’s defect, even while defending it.

Last week, 11 Magic Valley schools went to the voters begging for money. Some wanted millions to build new facilities and fix leaky roofs. Too many others are just trying to keep the lights on.

The state Legislature in 2006 overwhelmingly endorsed the switch. It made sense to many as frustrated taxpayers clamored for relief. But within 18 months, Wall Street left the nation reeling and the fundamental flaw in Risch’s plan was exposed when people stopped buying. Since the 2008 crash, individual schools have lost millions. Numerous superintendents have told us money that would have been spent on building maintenance is now spent on preserving science classes. Withering buildings, plunging student attainment and growing class sizes are the spawn of the move to sales tax.

Risch contends that schools can still ask voters for supplemental levies, so they haven’t lost any power to make up the losses incurred over the past six years, assuming they can “convince the local people” to support them at the ballot. But too many fail, and, without the taxing power, our schools are failing, plain and simple.

2006 was eight years ago. Surely, current Republican elected officials have seen the error of their ways and decided to rectify the situation?

State Senate and House leadership immediately get defensive when asked if the 2006 switch was a mistake. Lawmakers are more concerned with saving face than righting a wrong. It’s more than a shame, it’s a slight to their duty to draft responsible policy.

Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter said education was his top priority during January’s State of the State address.Yet, neither he nor the Legislature have taken a single meaningful step toward solving the cash issues that are plaguing Idaho, turning off would-be employers in need of an educated workforce and handicapping our children for the rest of their lives. The Legislative session has been a bust; one packed with pandering and political one-upmanship. If this is how Otter treats his “priorities,” we hate to see how less important issues are handled.

Educating the youth is a quintessential government function, one that benefits an entire population and frames history’s narrative for decades to come. They call it the Dark Ages for a reason. Education is maybe our most important infrastructure and it’s failing in Idaho.