Despite over 41,000 individual comments against their proposal to kill wolves in what most biologists say is a futile effort to increase the elk population in the upper Clearwater River of Idaho, the Idaho Fish and Game Commission is expected to submit a slightly revised proposal to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to do just this.
On March 3 the Commission met and considered the embarrassingly large outpouring of public sentiment against their proposal.
Not surprisingly, however, it looks like they will forge ahead, although the matter is supposed to be reviewed for its scientific adequacy by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service before it can be approved under the modified ESA "10J" rule under which Idaho is now managing the wolves. This gives Idaho a free hand now except for wolf reductions where wolves are having "unacceptable impacts on big game herds," which this proposal purports to be.
The Boise office of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will review the Idaho proposal, which was also faulted by the peer reviewers (neutral scientists in the field of wildlife biology).
Why would the Commission forge ahead? First, they convinced themselves that the input was from "outsiders," because most were sent through Defenders of Wildlife web site. However, hard copy letters, public testimony, and other email also opposed the proposal 2:1.
The answer is, I think, that blaming predators for fewer elk than in days gone bye is a long-standing, locally generated proposal that follows traditional thinking among political active sportsmen in the area (folk wisdom). The Fish and Game Commission is beholden to sportsmen and the governor's office. This won't change until there is new governor. The incumbent is retiring, and Idahoans will have a real choice in points of view on many subjects between Republican congressman Butch Otter (retiring to run for governor) and newspaper publisher Jerry Brady the Democrat.
Matters also won't change until local folks organize on wildlife issues to overcome the entrenched views and defeat a county commissioner or two and a couple of state legislators. The political weakness of people who don't support 1950s views about the purpose of wildlife is that they are not organized into local groups. That's why 42,000 comments can be dismissed. Defenders of Wildlife has many members, but they don't have local chapters of people willing and able to do political groundwork. If a group is locally organized, it's often easy to elect or defeat county commissioners, especially rural ones.
In the absence of local organization, the solution is going to court and showing a judge that the plan is not scientific. In fact, it's laughable.They collared 64 adult elk cows. 25 died or were killed over the period of study. Eight were killed by wolves. What would a politician say to a pollster who came in with results from interviewing just 64 people—"you don't get paid!" So it is easy to dismiss the "science" in principle, but it costs money, and in the meantime the state of Idaho and Montana are trying to work out a deal to overcome the legal fact that wolves are still not delisted from the Endangered Species Act because of Wyoming's truculence on the issue.
Idaho and Montana would like the Department of Interior to say that wolves are delisted even though the original rule said it was all three states at once, or none at all. If Idaho and Montana are successful, review by USFWS would not be needed. No pretense need be made about a scientific proposal, although a court might still derail the "deal" that is struck.
Why does it matter, anyway? Maybe it doesn't. Idaho has over 500 wolves and this would reduce the total by maybe 30-50 wolves for 5 years.
The danger is this, killing carnivores is the easiest response to make to hunters who say there are not enough elk (or other game animals). Killing carnivores usually does not increase game populations, but it is action. People like to see action even if it is but ritualistic slaughter. In times past how many people were sacrificed to the gods? Very doubtful that nature was appeased, but little doubt those watched the sacrifice felt a whole lot better. Multiple sacrifices of bears, cougars, and wolves in new areas will make folks even happier.
The Idaho Fish and Game proposal is ritualistic killing, not science. They need a lot more data before it could be science, but budgets are set in the short run, and ritualistic endeavor usually works wonders.
Bill Schneider has written a great essay on the seeming pointlessness of public involvement. I tend to agree with him, but I can see several counterarguments. First, you or your group's participation in public involvement is usually needed to establish your standing to sue in a court of law. Secondly, losing the battle of numbers really hurts when the authorities are already against you. Third, once people see how disenfranchised they are you have the makings of a political movement if only someone will pick up the pieces and organize them.
Read this, WILD BILL: The Absurdity We Call "Public Involvement." By Bill Schneider.
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