Testimony heavily against current hunt levels, but commissioners completely reject suggestions-
Boise, ID. Wednesday night (March 21) the Idaho Department of Fish and Game Commission met at its headquarters. In attendance were approximately 40 wolf advocates and a handful who were on the opposite side. 39 people testified. Over 30 were against continuing the wolf hunt.
The relative balance was immediately apparent. Just before opening the meeting to testimony Commission Chair, Tony McDermott asked that the people who were about to give their testimony to be considerate. This might have been prompted in part because of his own introductory remarks. McDermott made the controversial and unsubstantiated claim that there were 1200-1600 wolves in Idaho, with 250 wolves in the Panhandle Region alone. On the official record just a week before IDFG’s own big game biologist Jon Rachael said there were about 577 wolves remaining in Idaho after the lengthy hunting and trapping season. McDermott’s sudden 200-300 per cent population inflation unsettled the audience.
Commissioner McDermott also said Idaho Fish and Game is committed to managing wolves for a sustainable and viable population somewhere above 15 breeding pairs and 150 wolves. His comments were ambiguous as to what this actually meant.
Many of the people who then gave testimony spoke favoring a reduction of wolf killing from the present level in Idaho. The speakers were emphatic that the Fish and Game Commission was not conducting responsible wolf management. Many testified they were concerned that the goal of managing for only 15 breeding pairs of wolves and 150 wolves would not maintain a viable population. There was also considerable expression for safety of pets and non-target wildlife given the large number of traps and snares in place across the landscape. They were also very concerned about the torture of wolves which could be in traps for up to 72 hours. As if to underscore the concern, the very next day a photo of an Idaho wolf with circular blood trail in the snow went viral.
One common theme of those who testified was that the Commission does not adequately consider the feelings of the general public. A man representing Friends of the Clearwater gave a passionate speech about this, and suggested that the entire mission of the IDFG be revamped to take the concerns of the public at large into consideration. He suggested that their funding structure be revamped with their funding to come from a state sales tax and general funds rather than hunting licenses and tag fees.
It is an axiom of wildlife management that reliance on hunting and fishing licenses and related fees strongly pushes the agency toward management for game species rather than wildlife in general and also generally against management for more than a low number of large and medium sized predators.
Ken Cole, who is one of the editors of this on-line newspaper, challenged the assertions Commissioner McDermott made in his opening remarks. Cole recounted McDermott’s claims and asked him to consider the unchallenged, official facts. He said the commissioner had no basis for the numbers he had presented, and that if you look at the number given in the official annual wolf report (released March 1, 2012) and subtracted the number reported killed in the hunt and trapping season since Jan. 1, the result is about 560 to 575 wolves. McDermott had claimed 1200-1600 wolves without citing any evidence for the much higher numbers.
Cole turned to Jon Rachael and asked the department’s big game biologist what proportion of the wolves killed in the hunt wore radio collars. He couldn’t answer. Cole said it underscored his feeling that the IDFG is not adequately considering the toll that hunting and trapping has taken on the wolf population in Idaho because of their lack data in addition to the large disconnect between the reported scientific facts and what the Commission feels.
The Commission was reminded that they did not listen to their own biologists when setting the original population objectives contained in the 2008 IDFG plan which had adopted the objective of maintaining 518-732 wolves. Then they even abandoned that population objective in favor of managing for a vague number of wolves to be determined by unspecified methods somewhere above 15 breeding pairs and 150 wolves.
Cole reiterated there was absolutely no reason to trust the IDFG Commission to manage wolves properly when the chairman of the Commission made totally unsubstantiated claims.
Attending the meeting the next day (the day after the testimony), the commissioners discussed what they had heard. According to reports from the public who listened, Commissioners had no sympathy for any of the testimony presented and felt the public is clueless. They thought that science was on their side. Pleas for not reducing wolf population down to 150 were ignorant (chairman McDermott: “The public is full of misinformation. They need to understand a need for balance between wolves and ungulates”). Gary Powers said “Idaho is not Yellowstone. We don’t have a problem with over-browsed aspen”. Powers apparently felt that benefits of wolves were limited to vegetation in Yellowstone Park, not Idaho.
Commissioner Randy Budge said the public is polarized and he hoped that the public involvement meeting coming up could get “both sides” together to “get to know each other.” By getting to know the other side, he said, people would be better able to come to consensus on controversial issues. However, he followed by saying that “the commission could never get anything done if the public looked like that group last night.”
It was obvious that those who testified were more diverse than the white, middle-aged hunters who sat on the Fish and Game Commission.
There was no sympathy for the large number who passionately opposed trapping. It was not discussed, and McDermott even remarked that trapping was their most effective tool to control wolves. One of the commissioners did say that trapping was only a two-month season so it should not be a hardship on the public.
The Commission released its new wolf rules for the 2012-13 season.
- Gray Wolf
o Increase bag limit to five each for hunting and trapping in the Panhandle, Palouse-Hells Canyon, Dworshak, Lolo, Selway and Middle Fork wolf zones.
o Extend the season on private land in Panhandle zone.
o Add a trapping season in Units 19A and 25.
o Increase harvest limit in Southern Mountain zone from 25 to 40.
o Increase season length in Beaverhead and Island Park zones to close on January 31.
After a couple days retrospect, Ken Cole told me. “It seems that the IDFG Commission doesn’t want to listen to its own biologists. They made this clear when they arbitrarily decided to manage for 518-732 wolves in their 2008 plan against the recommendation of their biologists to manage for the then current population of around 800. They made it even clearer when they rescinded the 2008 plan in December of 2010 in favor of some vague number above 150 wolves and 15 breeding pairs. What is the point of having a staff of biologists if the commissioners just invent wolf population estimates? Should we trust them when the Commission chairman pulls a population number out of the back of his pants?
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By Ralph Maughan. March 24. 5:25 PM
Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University with specialties in natural resource politics, public opinion, interest groups, political parties, voting and elections. Aside from academic publications, he is author or co-author of three hiking/backpacking guides.
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