Capitol Reflections: 2023 Session, Issue 5
By: Idaho Farm Bureau Governmental Affairs
Wolf Population Decreases, New Draft Management Plan Released
The Idaho Fish and Game Department (IDFG) recently released its new wolf population count for 2022 at 1,337 wolves. This number is down by about 13% from 2021 estimate of 1,543 wolves, indicating a decline in statewide population. This decrease occurred despite having a lower number of wolves taken during the year The 234 wolf mortalities recorded since July 1, 2022, is tracking lower than mortalities rates have been the last 5 years. IDFG biologists suggest the 13% decline in population occurred more from lower breeding rates than an increase in mortality rates. With enough different packs disrupted from hunting or trapping, this can affect the success of breeding in the pack. When dealing with population management, both mortality rate and reproduction rates must be considered.
In response to the passage of S1211 in 2022 which opened up extended methods of take for wolves in Idaho and with the decline of population numbers this year, IDFG just released its new draft gray wolf management plan for the state (2023-2028) that is now open for public comment for 30 days. This draft lays out management objectives as well as goals and strategies. The main direction of the management plan is to maintain a viable, self-sustaining wolf population that is well distributed in suitable habitat throughout the state at a level that minimizes conflict with both livestock and ungulate populations but also maintains an annual abundance well above USFWS’s 2009 delisting criteria of 150 wolves. The plan’s goal is to manage and monitor a wolf population that fluctuates around an average of 500 wolves annually in the state. This population goal aligns with the USFWS 2009 NRM Wolf Delisting Rule stating “to average over 1,100 wolves, fluctuating around 400 wolves in Montana, 500 in Idaho, and 200 to 300 in Wyoming.” The plan lays out the goal of reaching this 500-wolf population within the next 5 years.
To achieve this population goal, the draft management plan continues the use of public hunting/trapping as a primary tool for managing wolves, including incentivizing public harvest through 3rd party agreements. The target is annual human-caused mortality at 37% of peak annual population. These population goals will be monitored annually with camera-based occupancy and abundance estimates, focused capture and collaring, and mortality data.
An additional goal outside of population is the reduction of wolf depredations on livestock. This includes an emphasis on the reporting of suspected losses to investigate, confirm and document wolf depredations, along with continuing authorized board control actions to reduce livestock conflicts. Public harvest, control actions and incentivized public harvest through 3rd party agreements to focus harvest on specific chronic livestock depredation units will be primary tools used to reduce conflict. Additional plans include radio-collaring of wolves to facilitate resolution of losses in chronic depredation areas. The plan also looks at reducing impacts of predation on ungulates as a goal through similar means.
Now is the time for public input. The draft management plan is posted online for a 30-day comment period. Following the comment period, IDFG will make any necessary improvements to the draft based on the input received. A final plan will then be presented to the Commission for adaption.
IFBF supports the direction of this draft wolf management plan and encourages its members to take the time to read the draft plan and provide their input through public comment to the department.
Click HERE for a copy of the draft management plan.
Click HERE to submit comments on the draft management plan.
Odd Election Date Bill Advances
Rep Joe Alfieri (R-Coeur d’Alene) is the sponsor of H58, which would eliminate the March and August election dates that are used by schools to pass bonds and supplemental levies. Rep Alfieri did a very thorough job of laying out the reasoning behind his bill. He explained that these odd elections are an extra expense to counties who administer the elections. On average counties spend more than $1 million per year to administer elections for schools. Further, there is very low participation on these odd election dates, meaning a very small percentage of the population is obligating the rest to additional taxes if the measures are successful. The statistics cited were between 3% and 12% of the registered voters participating depending on the year and the location. There is a built-in disincentive for schools to get the word out broadly that an election is occurring on these odd dates, since focusing on encouraging only their supporters to vote provides a greater chance that the measure will pass.
There were a few education officials opposing the measure, mostly providing the usual statements in opposition such as it “isn’t fair” to remove these dates, and that the schools “were promised 15 years ago when we moved to consolidate elections we would still have four dates and that we would also reduce the super-majority, which hasn’t happened.” One superintendent stated that it would be much more difficult to be successful on the primary or general election dates since there would be more items on the ballot and their measures would be “lost” meaning voters would not go to the end of the ballot to vote on their measures. In response, one committee member suggested that they work with the Secretary of State to ensure that their measures were higher up on the ballot.
Coincidentally, Farm Bureau members were in town for our annual legislative conference and many members were in attendance during this hearing. Four Farm Bureau members testified in favor of H58 and did a great job of explaining why it would be a benefit, sharing stories about low participation rates, the difficulties they have had in finding information about elections held on these odd dates, and the difficulty of getting farmers to the polls on these dates. IFBF also spoke in favor of H58 sharing IFBF policy #114.2 which supports eliminating the March and August dates. We also stated that schools have received a more than 42% increase in funding from the state in the last three years alone, plus $330 million earmarked for education in the special session this past fall. There are also additional bills this session which propose to provide even more funding to education for facilities and for the classroom. Therefore, there should be far less need for supplemental levies and perhaps even bonds if these proposals are successful. Farm Bureau members want to see maximum voter participation when obligating taxpayers to higher taxes.
After about an hour of testimony, H58 was approved by the committee on a vote of 11-2 along party lines. H58 must now be approved by the entire House before advancing to the Senate for Consideration in the Senate State Affairs Committee. IFBF supports H58.
Lava Ridge Wind Project Resolution Introduced
A resolution regarding the proposed Lava Ridge Wind Project in the Magic Valley was introduced in the House Natural Resources Committee on Thursday. Once the resolution is printed and placed in the public domain we will report on its details. This resolution comes after the recent release of the BLM’s draft EIS on the project and many public statements of concern from elected officials, communities, and organizations (including local county Farm Bureaus). The resolution was introduced by Rep. Jack Nelsen (R-Jerome) with many co-sponsoring legislators from the Magic Valley.
Governor Little, Lt. Governor Bedke, U.S. Senators Crapo and Risch, and Congressman Simpson issued a letter to BLM outlining their many concerns with the project and its impacts on the land, natural resources, farming operations, historical sites, and communities in the area of these proposed windmills. Read the full letter from Little, Bedke, Crapo, Risch, and Simpson here: 02.06.2023-Joint-Little-Bedke-Crapo-Risch-Simpson-letter-Lava-Ridge_final.pdf (idaho.gov)
Those interested in providing input during the public comment period for this project, please visit the following website for more information: EplanningUi (blm.gov)
The comment period is open until March 21, 2023. In preparing comments, remember to focus the message on one or more of the points in the alternatives discussed in the draft EIS. General comments in support or opposition will not be considered by BLM. If you would like to comment and need some assistance on how to provide effective comments, please contact Braden Jensen at the Boise office and he will provide some guidance.
Response to Grizzly Delisting Petition
This week the USFWS released its initial review response of three petitions filed dealing with delisting grizzly bears. The response came only a day after Governor Brad Little sent a letter to the Biden Administration stating Idaho’s intent to sue the federal government for its failure to uphold the law and make a required finding on the state’s petition to remove grizzly bears from the endangered species list. Idaho filed its petition to delist grizzly bears in the lower 48 states back in March of 2022. Under law, USFWS was supposed to respond with a finding within 90 days of the petition being filed, which they failed to do so. Montana and Wyoming had filed their own separate petitions around the same time as Idaho’s and had not received a response within the 90 day time period either.
Following the notice of intent to sue sent by Idaho, USFWS announced its response that it finds two of the three petitions substantial enough to initiate a comprehensive status review of the grizzly bear to see if delisting is warranted. The two petitions were MT and WY’s which only ask to delist specific recovery zones, the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem (NCDE) and the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem (GYE). The next steps include a status review and analysis to arrive at a 12-month finding on whether the ESA delisting is warranted in these zones.
The service denied Idaho’s petition to delist stating, “We also found that the petition to delist the grizzly bear in the lower 48 states on the basis of it not being a valid listable entity did not present substantial scientific or commercial information indicating that the petitioned actions may be warranted; therefore, we will take no further action on that petition.”
Idaho Farm Bureau policy strongly supports the delisting of grizzly bears and for the state to control management of the species. IFBF will continue to work with state legislators, state agencies and Idaho’s congressional delegation to coordinate a possible path forward to remove grizzly bear from the ESA.
Fence Law Update Bill Introduced
This week the Senate Agricultural Affairs Committee voted unanimously to introduce S1063 which would help resolve issues caused by some bad actors within the livestock industry. Unfortunately, there have been instances around the state where a few livestock producers refuse to make a good faith effort to maintain their fences as they should. Instead, they use “open range” as an excuse to shield themselves from their responsibility to keep their fences in good repair and to keep their livestock on their own land. In order to protect Idaho’s open range laws, Senator Mark Harris (R-Soda Springs) has been working with Farm Bureau, Idaho Cattlemen’s Assoc. and other organizations to find an acceptable solution.
Idaho has always had a law that clarifies the responsibility of adjoining landowners to maintain fences between them. Currently, Idaho law states that “any person” may notify an owner that their fence is in disrepair and upon notice, the owner must repair the fence within 10 days or be fined.
Unfortunately, the penalty provisions in current law have not been updated for more than 100 years, so the County Prosecutors are reluctant to spend their time and resources on a case for a $25 fine. Therefore, County Sheriffs are also reluctant to enforce the law since they know it will likely not be prosecuted. This has led to many unfortunate incidents and misguided efforts to change Idaho’s open range laws, which are not the problem.
S1063 removes current language that allows any person to notify a landowner that their fence is in disrepair and instead restricts the notification to a sheriff or other law enforcement officer. Once a landowner is notified that their fence is in disrepair by law enforcement, they will still have 10 days to correct the situation before they could be ticketed.
S1063 also seeks to make the penalty relevant so that prosecutors and sheriffs will take action when a stock owner is flagrantly avoiding the responsibility to maintain his fences and allowing their stock to wander through other people’s property. S1065 would increase the current penalty of $25 to $150 for a first-time violation and $300 for a second-time violation within five years of the first violation.
S1063 only applies to fences on private and state lands. Fences on federally administered lands are governed by federal laws and regulations.
Both the Farm Bureau Beef Committee and the State and Federal Lands Committees have reviewed this bill and have agreed that it is acceptable to them. They understand the need to have meaningful fence laws so livestock owners are making good-faith efforts to maintain fences and their livestock are not routinely damaging neighbors’ property, while also protecting the open range laws that primarily assign liability when livestock accidentally get onto roads and are involved in an accident. S1063 will receive a full hearing in the Senate Agricultural Affairs Committee in the next week or so. IFBF supports S1063.
Pet Feed/Hemp Ingredient Bill
The House Agricultural Affairs Committee voted to introduce a bill H95 that would amend Idaho’s Commercial Feed Statute to allow animal feed remedies for pets and equines to include ingredients from industrial hemp, as defined in Idaho law. The legislation does not apply to feed remedies for any production animal that will enter the food system.
This need for H95 came from a recognition that there were many animal products being sold in the state that contain industrial hemp ingredients; however, the bill that was passed a couple of years ago only addressed the production and handling of industrial hemp. It did not allow hemp ingredients to be included in animal feed products.
H95 is brought by the Idaho Retailers Association and is sponsored by Rep. Jack Nelsen (R- Jerome). Farm Bureau provided input on the bill to ensure that it would not conflict with the hemp production and handling statutes that were passed a couple of years ago.
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