By Sean Ellis
Idaho Farm Bureau Federation
BOISE – A bill has been introduced in the Idaho Legislature that would ensure the state’s Wolf Depredation Control Board continues indefinitely.
The board manages money that is used to pay federal and state agencies to remove problem wolves in Idaho that cause significant damage to livestock and wildlife.
Authorized in 2014, it is due to sunset on June 30, 2020, but Senate Bill 1039 would remove that sunset clause and permanently authorize the board.
“Removing the sunset clause is absolutely necessary and it’s our No. 1 priority at the legislature this year,” said Dubois rancher Richard Savage, a member of the five-member board. “It has to be done so we can keep this thing moving into the future.”
“As long as we have wolves in Idaho, we are going to need the board,” said Sen. Bert Brackett, a Republican rancher from Rogerson who sponsored the initial legislation in 2014 that created the wolf control board.
Over the past five years, the wolf control board has received $400,000 per year from the state’s general fund, $110,000 from Idaho livestock producers and $110,000 from sportsmen.
The money from the livestock industry comes from dedicated fees collected on Idaho cattle and sheep. To come up with the money, the state’s cattle industry agreed to increase the state brand renewal fee and sheep producers agreed to increase their wool assessment.
The sportsmen’s share comes from an Idaho Department of Fish and Game account that collects fees from Idaho sportsmen through the sale of fishing and hunting licenses.
The board contracts with Wildlife Services, a federal agency that handles animal-human conflicts, to lethally remove wolves that kill livestock, and it contracts with IDFG to remove wolves that are killing large numbers of elk and deer.
While the board has received $400,000 per year in state funds, Gov. Brad Little has asked legislators to provide $200,000 this year.
During an initial print hearing before the Senate Resources and Environment Committee, Carl Rey, who represents the general public on the wolf control board, was asked about Little’s proposal to reduce the state’s contribution to the board to $200,000.
Sen. Michelle Stennett, D-Ketchum, also said the board has a sizable reserve account and she questioned whether the state needs to continue funding the board.
Wolf livestock kills hit a record level last year and are on pace to exceed that total this year. Investigations of possible wolf attacks also hit a record level and the board pays for those whether or not they turn out to be actual wolf kills.
“At this point that trend seems to be continuing,” Savage said. “We think it’s going to be another real busy year.”
Rey said the board spent about $130,000 more than it took in last year, the first time it has spent more than it has received.
“The trends are fairly clear,” he said. “We see an increasing need to fund higher levels of complaints and activities surrounding those complaints.”
The board may get by this next year given its surplus, but “That $200,000 level will not be sustainable in so far as continuing the board into the future,” Rey said.
Savage said the board probably can get through this year with $200,000 in state money “but I think we get through this year pretty close to broke.”
Stennett also asked why the board doesn’t use non-lethal methods of controlling wolves but Rey pointed out the board’s mandate by state statute is to lethally remove problem wolves.
Non-lethal control methods are “outside the scope of the board because our mandate is very clear,” he said.
Brackett said there has been talk about possible changes to the board’s statute to give it more tools, so it can be more responsive to wolf depredations and that could be a topic during the 2020 Idaho Legislature.
The board has done a good job of helping to control problem wolves “but producers continue to suffer severe losses in certain areas,” he said.
The Senate committee unanimously voted to print the bill, which means it will receive a public hearing where supporters and opponents of the legislation will be allowed to weigh in on it.
About 50 people testified on the initial 2014 legislation that created the WDCB and testimony was about equal for and against the bill.
Supporters of the legislation pointed out at the time that federal funding for the control of problem wolves in Idaho had declined by about $630,000 annually and they said the board was necessary to ensure Idaho can continue to control wolves that take heavy tolls on livestock and wildlife.