By Kitty Block and Sara Amundson
UPDATE (5/7/21): Despite overwhelming opposition from Idaho residents, professional wildlife biologists and managers and state fish and game commissioners, Gov. Brad Little signed S. 1211 into law on May 5. We urge the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to uphold its obligations to review and relist gray wolves under the Endangered Species Act. Reckless policies like Idaho’s will lead to unfettered killing of wolves in the months ahead unless the agency steps in to protect these vulnerable animals.
A bill that would allow trophy hunters, trappers and private contractors hired at taxpayer expense to kill up to 90% of the state’s wolves is flying through the Idaho legislature, and we need to stop it in its tracks.
The bill, introduced Tuesday, has already passed the state Senate and the House Resources and Conservation Committee. It could receive a vote on the floor of the House as early as Monday.
This is a terrible and wrongheaded measure that shows neither compassion nor any understanding of science. S. 1211 would allow trophy hunters and trappers to kill an unlimited number of wolves by shooting mothers and pups in their dens, poisoning the animals, and shooting them from helicopters or airplanes, among other extremely cruel methods. The bill would also give the state an additional $190,000 to hire state and federal agencies and private contractors to kill wolves, on top of $400,000 the state has already allocated for this purpose.
In addition, it would allow wolf trapping year-round on private lands—a step that puts not just wolves but even pets at risk of getting trapped and injured or even dying.
Lawmakers who are pushing the bill hold out a weak argument that they want to bring down the number of wolves in the state—now estimated at 900 to just over 1,550—to 150 wolves, or approximately 15 packs. What they are not disclosing is that such a no-holds-barred carnage could end up wiping wolves out of the state forever.
Unfortunately, we have come to expect such disregard for these American native carnivores from Idaho. Wolves lost their federal protections in the state in 2011, a decade before the recent federal delisting of wolves in other contiguous states, which returned wolf management to the states. The state has since allowed these animals to be massacred in alarming numbers and without mercy. In 2020 alone, at least 407 wolves were killed by trophy hunters and trappers in Idaho. The state does not set a limit on how many wolves can be killed each year and wildlife officials have been whittling away the protections further with each passing year. Last year the Idaho Fish and Game Commission increased the number of wolves a single individual can kill to 30 and just last month it allowed year-round wolf hunting in much of the state. S. 1211 would further solidify this carnage into law.
The bill claims to be targeted at protecting cattle ranchers, but data show such conflicts are rare. Moreover, killing wolves disrupts the social structure within packs and can actually lead to more conflict between young animals and cattle, instead of preventing it. It is also not true that killing wolves can increase deer and elk populations for hunters to target; keeping wolves alive can keep deer and elk herds healthy and can help mitigate the spread of disease.
Americans value wildlife and want animals like wolves protected, but increasingly, we have seen our lawmakers move in the opposite direction at the behest of trophy hunting interests. In November of 2020, the Trump administration delisted wolves in all 48 lower states. In states like Idaho, Montana and Wisconsin some lawmakers and wildlife officials are pushing regressive policies based off the same myths and hate that once pushed wolves to the brink of extinction.
Wolves are iconic, and most Idahoans want them protected. Thousands of people from all over the world flock to Idaho to see these majestic carnivores in places like Yellowstone Park, bringing their tourist dollars with them. Were this dangerous bill to become law, Idaho would not only see its ecosystems thrown off balance because of the loss of its apex predators, it would stand to lose all of that tourism revenue.
We and our allies are fighting with all of our might to stop this bill, even as we move full steam ahead with other efforts to end the persecution of wolves, including challenging the federal delisting of wolves in court. This is a long-running war but we are in it for the duration. Every year we work to ward off attacks on wolves by some members of Congress during the annual appropriations process. The past two administrations—under Obama and Trump—have failed to protect wolves. The Biden administration has the chance to undo this wrong and follow the scientific evidence that these imperiled animals need federal protections to ensure they survive.
We will be looking for your help with these efforts. For now, if you live in Idaho please contact the office of Gov. Brad Little and urge him to veto S. 1211 if it comes to his desk. Wolves today occupy just 15 percent of their historic range in this country, and we need more laws to protect them, not kill them, especially in states like Idaho where they have suffered for far too long.
Sara Amundson is president of the Humane Society Legislative Fund.