Bill to keep Idaho wolf control board headed to governor

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Legislation to keep operating a state board that pays a federal agency to kill wolves that attack livestock and elk is on its way to Gov. Brad Little after a House vote Monday.

The House voted 51-19 to repeal a section of Idaho law that would end the five-year-run of the Idaho Wolf Depredation Control Board in the summer of 2020.

The legislation requested by the board already passed the Senate.

Backers say Idaho has too many wolves that are harming ranching and farming families by killing livestock. Those who opposed the bill suggested it should include non-lethal methods of wolf control. At least one lawmaker opposed the legislation because it made the control board permanent.

The board has in the past received $400,000 annually from the state. Little has asked the Legislature to approve $200,000 for the board in fiscal 2020. Board member Carl Rey has previously said it will need between $500,000 and $600,000 annually from taxpayers to keep going in the future.

The control board also receives money from the livestock industry that's matched by the state Department of Fish and Game through fees paid by hunters up to a maximum of $110,000. The board pays the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Wildlife Services to kill wolves that attack livestock and elk.

Republican Rep. Laurie Lickley sponsored the legislation.

The "repeal would be in effect until we can get a handle on wolf numbers in Idaho," Lickley said. "This is an investment in our rural communities."

Republican Rep. Christy Zito said she is concerned about wolves moving into areas where people live. "They will start to see humans as part of the food chain," she said.

Republican Rep. Heather Scott opposed the legislation because it permanently created another state agency that she said paid $9,000 per wolf killed. Instead, she wanted more liberal hunting and trapping allowed.

"I don't think this is a wise use of our money," she said.

Democratic Rep. Muffy Davis said she understood the need to control wolves but said the legislation should include a non-lethal component. "If we could just add the words non-lethal I wouldn't have a problem with it," she said.

The Agriculture Department has said that in the 2018 federal fiscal year, which runs from the beginning of October to the end of September, Wildlife Services killed 83 wolves in Idaho. Of those, 73 involved livestock attacks and 10 were an effort to boost elk numbers in northern Idaho.

Besides wolf control actions, hunters and trappers also kill wolves. Fish and Game has said that in calendar year 2018, hunters killed 179 wolves and trappers harvested another 133.

Fish and Game last year estimated Idaho had 90 packs. The agency doesn't count individual wolves or provide an overall wolf count number. But it notes that a typical Idaho wolf pack has six to nine wolves — meaning about 540 to 810 wolves in the state at that time.

Federal authorities lifted federal protections for wolves in Idaho in 2011, but if the wolf population falls below certain levels, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service could take back management from the state. State officials last year said the wolf population is well above levels that would trigger federal oversight.