Idaho Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter this week signed a bill declaring the federal government's introduction of wolves to Idaho a state disaster.
The Idaho bill comes despite last week's congressional action to take wolves off the endangered species list.
In signing the bill, Otter expressed concerns about the legislation undermining his own statutory authority to declare such disasters.
Congress passed legislation last Thursday removing Montana and Idaho wolves from the federal Endangered Species list and returning management to the states, as part of a budget bill to continue federal funding this year.
The legislation was advanced by Montana Democratic Sens. Jon Tester and Max Baucus, along with Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, in the House.
The legislation effectively “rolls back the clock” to restore a 2009 U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service rule that delisted wolves in Montana and Idaho, allowing those states to proceed with a regulated wolf hunt. Wyoming’s wolf population was excluded from delisting then and it will continue to be.
However, the rider does provide for state management authority over wolves in Washington, Oregon and Utah. Language in the rider specifies that reissuance of the 2009 rule “shall not be subject to judicial review.”
This week Otter signed House Bill 343, along with a two-page letter to Idaho Secretary of State Ben Ysursa outlining his concerns about having his authority as governor usurped and that the legislation is unnecessary. A copy of the letter can be found at http://goo.gl/Ersk2
"I signed this legislation into law despite the aforementioned reservations because: (1) the Legislature has agreed to work with me next session to fix the provisions that infringe on the authority vested in the governor to declare disasters; and (2) unfortunately we have been here before – only to have state management overturned and federal protection restored," he wrote. "Portions of this bill may prove useful in the future if state management is revoked or the species is relisted under the Endangered Species Act."
In the meantime, the governor said he asked the Idaho Department of Fish and Game "to focus on resuming state management of wolves pursuant to our state management plan. Part of that focus includes immediately reducing depredations on wildlife and livestock as state management is restored."
Otter said the legislation provides no additional protections for Idaho citizens than already existed. "Idahoans should know they have always been able to kill a wolf in self defense or in the defense of other humans. That has not changed, nor is this legislation or a disaster declaration necessary for anyone to protect themselves or other people from wolves in any part of the state."
He also praised the work of Simpson in getting Congress to pass – and President Obama to sign into law – language requiring Interior Secretary Ken Salazar to delist wolves within 60 days in Idaho and other states. And the governor applauded the intentions of legislators who approved House Bill 343.
"My concerns with the legislation are not whether it is an appropriate response to the devastation that wolves have caused. I understand and share the frustration of Idahoans over the impact wolves have had across our state in the past 16 years." But the governor said he was concerned that the law infringes on the broad and unilateral authority the Legislature granted to the governor to declare disasters in the 1975 State Disaster Preparedness Act.