Politicians follow the money. That’s not news. Still, when controversial legislation is approved, it’s worth paying attention to who wins, who loses, and who’s paying.
In Idaho, the state Senate has followed the bidding of the agricultural lobby and approved a new bill that would open 90% of the state’s previously endangered wolves to hunting and contract killing.
This puts them at odds with environmentalists and the federal government, who have long worked to keep the ecosystem of the area in balance.
Idaho was once teeming with wolves before it was settled. They were nearly eradicated through hunting, poisoning, and both private and government efforts in the early 1900s but reintroduced in the mid-1990s as part of a program that saw a cascade of change and revitalization in habitats like Yellowstone National Park.
This was a controversial move, pitting the interests of environmentalists against ranchers, who feared their livestock and livelihood would be endangered. Wolves tend to steer clear of cattle — they’re smart enough to know a risky hunt from a sure thing. Their presence had a butterfly effect that saw flora and fauna flourish, beaver populations boom, and dozens of other benefits.
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Against this backdrop of change, Idaho state government became firmly pitted against the federal government’s preservation efforts. “It was the most controversial wildlife issue I was ever involved in,” explained Gary Power, a regional supervisor for the Idaho Department of Fish and Game in an interview with Life on the Range. “The emotions on both sides of the spectrum, from those who said they’re going to eat all the children, to those who said there’s never been a problem, and there’s not going to be any problems. It was just extremely tense,” he continued.
This controversy continued for years, with legal battles dragging out and nothing much changing until 2011, when the Idaho Department of Fish and Game regained control of the wolf population, which had reached satisfactory numbers and was delisted as endangered species. Now, a decade later, the ranchers are getting their way as restrictions are gradually loosened on hunting and trapping thanks to intense lobbying.
This bill, which still needs to pass in the state House of Representatives, is the largest change since the wolves reintroduction. It essentially allows hunters and contract killers, through the state’s Wolf Depredation Control Board, to decimate the state’s wolfpacks from 1,500 to about 150 — just above the legal threshold for federal protection.
“We do know that if we want to maintain our agreement with the federal government, we need to stop at 90%,” explained Democratic Sen. Grant Burgoyne to KTVB. Lawmakers have tried to downplay the claim that 90% of the state’s wolves could be killed, but nothing except the federal government’s protection is standing in the way, because of the bill’s wording.
The Humane Society of the United States released a condemnatory statement, writing, “This is a terrible and wrongheaded measure that shows neither compassion nor any understanding of science.”
They noted that thanks to the bill’s provision to allow year-round trapping on private land, pets and other animals could be at greater risk of injury or death. Further, indiscriminate hunting often fractures wolf packs and can actually lead them to attack cattle more often out of desperation.
Sadly, it’s no surprise that Idaho’s politicians are bowing to the agricultural lobby and trophy hunters, rather than listening to the majority of Idahoans that want wolves to be protected. US residents can use a helpful form from the Humane Society to write to Idaho Governor Brad Little and urge him to veto the bill, if it does pass in the House of Representatives as expected. You can also learn more about conservation of national parks and wildlife at Yellowstone here.Whizzco