Idaho Gov. Butch Otter announced Monday that his state will no longer act as the federal government’s “designated agent” for wolf management.
The Republican contends that wolves have been “devastating” deer, elk and moose populations and the state has a “sovereign right” to protect its big game populations.
“Idahoans have suffered from this intolerable situation for too long, but starting today at least the state will no longer be complicit,” Otter wrote. “As you know, Idaho stands ready to manage wolves when the species is once again delisted. Until then, the state will not manage wolves as the designated agent of the federal government.
“That means that Idaho Department of Fish and Game will not perform statewide monitoring for wolves, conduct investigations into illegal killings, provide state law enforcement in response to illegal takings or implement the livestock depredation response program.”
Otter said he is instead directing Fish and Game to concentrate on protecting ungulate herds from wolves, using experienced volunteers to act as “special agents” in carrying out “control actions” in certain areas where wolf impacts on elk, in particular, have been documented.
In a statement released Monday afternoon from Washington, D.C., a Department of Interior press secretary said sport hunting for wolves cannot legally resume, despite Idaho’s action.
“In light of the federal court ruling, the wolf is again on the Endangered Species list and therefore we cannot currently authorize the resumption of sport hunting of wolves,” said Kendra Barkoff. “Up to this point, we appreciate the states of Idaho and Montana who have been working responsibly to manage wolves; nonetheless, we must follow the court’s ruling.”
It is unclear what impact Idaho’s new policy towards wolves will have on Montana, which is currently pursuing a multi-pronged approach to restore a managed wolf hunt. Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Director Joe Maurier and Carolyn Sime, the state’s wolf management coordinator, could not be reached for comment.
Montana Rep. Denny Rehberg recently said that in his conversations with Otter, the governor said his new approach toward wolves is similar to declaring Idaho a “sanctuary state.” That term is typically applied to cities and states that refuse to take on any role in enforcing federal immigration laws.
Otter wrote another letter to Salazar in August stating the Idaho Fish and Game Commission had recommended that the state remain in a lead management role for wolves, and asking to negotiate a new memorandum of understanding for that to happen.
But Otter warned that he would be seeking a “provision for public hunting” in the agreement, despite the ruling from U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy of Missoula earlier this year that restored ESA protections for wolves in Idaho and Montana, effectively ending managed wolf hunts in both states.
Idaho assumed a lead management role around 2006, using federal funding to carry out a variety of wolf-related duties. Otter noted that Idaho eagerly accepted its new role to show that the state could manage wolves in a manner similar to the way other predator species are managed.
“We showed, during delisting, that we are responsible stewards of all our wildlife, including your wolves,” Otter states in his latest letter to Salazar. “Today I join many Idahoans in questioning whether there is any benefit to being a designated agent without the flexibility of a public hunt, which has been denied.”
Otter concluded by saying he is “committed to finding a path forward for delisting” wolves and restoring the state’s authority to manage the species.
On Thursday the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Idaho Fish and Wildlife Office opened a 24-hour, toll-free line for calls related to endangered gray wolf management within the state. Officials said the action was taken in response to Otter’s announcement that Idaho would no longer manage wolves as a designated agent under the ESA.
Procedures for reporting and addressing wolf depredation incidents will remain unchanged, officials said. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services Division will continue to respond to suspected wolf depredations on livestock or pets.
“We learned on Oct, 18 that Gov. Otter terminated state management of wolves in Idaho. We want to assure the public that the Fish and Wildlife Service will investigate all wolf depredation incidents and take appropriate action,” said Robyn Thorson, regional director for the federal agency’s Pacific Region. “When livestock depredation is reported, we will continue to work closely with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services Division as it investigates depredation by problem wolves, and we will authorize wolf control as situations dictate.”
Additionally, the toll-free line will serve as a clearinghouse call center to help the public report wolf mortality and find answers to other wolf management questions as the transition from state to federal management occurs. A similar service was previously provided by the Idaho Department of Fish and Game.
South of Interstate 90, anyone may legally shoot a wolf in the act of attacking any type of livestock on their private land or grazing allotment, and anyone may shoot a wolf chasing or attacking their dog or stock animals anywhere except within the National Park System.
North of the Interstate, endangered wolves are subject to additional protections and can only legally be taken when authorized by a permit issued by the Service or if exempted by an incidental take statement associated with a consultation with the Service that results in a biological opinion. Livestock owners are prohibited from taking wolves seen actively chasing, attacking, or killing their livestock; only authorized agents can take chronically depredating endangered wolves.