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Idaho Gains full control over wolf management.
Idaho Fish and Game Commission to plan killing wolves in the Clearwater River area?

Jan. 9, 2005

Jan. 11-12   75% wolf kill proposed for two hunting units

Secretary of Interior Gale Norton came to Boise, Idaho on January 5, and met with Governor Dirk Kempthorne to sign a "memorandum of understanding" (MOU) transferring management control of Idaho wolves from the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service to the State of Idaho.

Idaho will now make all the day-to-day management decisions on wolves. Idaho will be in the spotlight because it has far more wolves than the two adjacent states, Montana and Wyoming. At the end of 2006, there were about 600 wolves in Idaho, stemming from the reintroduction of 35 wolves total from 1995 to 1996.

Idaho's wolf recovery has been spectacular with low wolf mortality compared to Wyoming and Montana, absence of known wolf disease, and lower rates of livestock depredation per wolf than in the other two states.

Last Friday night in Boise a celebration was held attended by wolf advocates, stock growers, public officials, artists, conservationists, and state and federal wildlife officials. The immediate occasion was the retirement of USFWS Idaho Wolf coordinator for the federal government, Carter Niemeyer. The air rang with praises to Niemeyer from all sides. On the occasion of his retirement I suggested his skills at bringing diverse sides together made him a very fit candidate for public office. I should have added "better than most who now hold it."

By Sunday, however, old issues returned as new folks took over.

This week the Idaho Fish and Game Commission meets for 3 days, and wolves are heavily on their agenda. They will entertain a proposal to kill wolves in some portion of the Clearwater River drainage (potentially a huge area) to help restore the elk herds there, which declined drastically beginning in the late 80s and early 1990s and have not rebounded.

Here is the commission's agenda.

On Jan. 11 the Idaho Fish and Game Commission (which directs the Idaho Fish and Game Department) will have a wolf workshop.

First, Jim Casewell of the governor's Office of Species Conservation will give a presentation on the MOU Idaho and the federal government signed last Thursday.

Next, Steve Nadeau, who is essentially taking over Niemeyer's role, but doing it as an Idaho Fish and Game employee, will give a "status report." He will describe the distribution, population, growth, etc. of Idaho wolves at present. Then he will give a report on the effects wolves have had on livestock.

Then  Jim Unsworth, Chief of the Bureau of Wildlife will report on the department's ungulate study which is documenting how elk and deer die in Idaho. They have radio collared a large number of ungulates, and this could provide excellent data. How the data is analyzed will also be important.

Finally, the director of the department, Steve Huffaker, is expected to give an update on the request to the US Forest Service to dart wolves by helicopter and land inside the Frank Church/River of No Return Wilderness to radio collar suspected undocumented packs. This proposal, though discovered late by the public, has generated much controversy and a lawsuit may be in the making (see earlier story on this).

At 7 pm there will be a public hearing on this and other matters of interest to the public. You are certainly encouraged to be there if you have interest.

Two days later the commission meeting will end with action on the proposal to kill wolves in the Clearwater. The Commission may or may not approve this. If approved it will be submitted for public comment.

According to the MOU, any proposal to reduce wolves because of adverse effects on big game populations must be based on science and must be peer reviewed. The proposal has been sent to three reviewers -- two from universities and one from a wildlife agency in another state (Colorado).

Many people do not understand peer review, but it is the gold standard of science if done correctly.  For example, I am a political scientist. Should I produce a study and write it into an article to be published in a peer reviewed journal, it would work this way. My article would be sent out to known experts in the topic. I would not learn who these reviewers are, nor would they know that I wrote it. Then they would accept the article for publication, accept it conditionally upon revisions, or reject it. If Idaho moves its killing plan forward, it still must be approved by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. I have less confidence in the agency today because the Bush Administration has slowly taken its toll and people have retired and have been  replaced with ideologues rather than those who honor science.

Obviously Idaho Fish and Game can't meet all the requirements of an academic peer review. The reviewers know who is making the proposal, but the peers are supposed to be both expert and neutral as they take up the proposal. They can recommend it be approved, approved with changes or rejected. Obviously, if they are not convinced that the low elk populations will benefit from wolf reduction, they should urge rejection. "Bar room" biology, and ideological, rather than scientific views should not be present.

As of now the content of the plan is not public, nor is the number of wolves to be killed or the area. The rumor is to kill 80%.

My view, which is not peer reviewed, is that the failure of the Clearwater elk population to rebound is due to poor habitat. When Lewis and Clark explored the area they almost starved to death for lack of game. Hungry Creek, a tributary of the Clearwater, got its name for a specific reason. In 1910, however, huge forest fires burned almost 10-million acres in the Clearwater and adjacent country. Thirty years later the result was a bounty of elk, but gradually the tall forest grew back, and elk declined. The decline was not unexpected. It was being predicted in the early 1970s, and by 1990, it had come to pass. Folks weren't passive, and I recall as early as 1976 seeing prescribed burns along the Lochsa River to try to restore an earlier ecological state favorable to elk, but too little and perhaps the wrong kind of habitat improvement was done. In addition, many think the area has "a poor old elk bull to young bull ratio." This indirectly facilitates predation by solitary predators like black bears and cougar (their predation is successful because the young bulls are inefficient at mating and the elk calves are born over a long period, rather than nearly all at once). Wolf packs don't bother much with newly born individual elk calves. I am willing to be convinced by science that wolves are a problem in the Clearwater for elk recovery, but the data must be good. For now I am skeptical. My hypothesis is that it will take another huge fire plus years of natural vegetation recovery to restore the elk. Wild nature is not like a farm, and the number of animals --predators and prey alike -- are not like bushels of corn. "Harvest" is often a bad metaphor.

If you want to make suggestions to the commissioners, who are appointed by the governor, Idahoans should contact their particular commissioner right now.

Here are the commissioners. The way to contact them is provided.

Most of them appear to be pretty unfavorable to wolves judging from their past statements, but they also say they rarely hear from wolf supporters. That's probably because the wolf has been in the federal ball court until now. If those who want conservation of all wildlife by Idaho's wildlife management agency, including wolves, and not just a handful of species, they will have to contact and learn about the Idaho Fish and Game Commission.

There is also the Office of Species Conservation in the governor's office. It is unclear what its role is, but many feel it has a powerful influence.

January 11-12, 2006. The proposal was released today. It is to kill (not hunt) 75% of the wolves and keep it that way for five years in hunting units 10 and 12. Idaho F & G says that's up to 51 wolves. They have already been killing a lot of bears and cougars and plan to increase the killing. Relative to the size of the Idaho population, that's a lot more wolves than in the controversial Alaska wolf control killings. I've getting a lot of email and talking on the phone, and I think many obstacles lie (or will be put in the path) of this happening. . . . more info will be coming on this.

I need a copy of the plan to digest their data to see if it can reasonably support this solution.

Map of Idaho hunting units.

More on 1-12-2006.
"Idaho wants to kill more than 50 wolves to help elk". By John Miller. Ed Bangs is pretty reassuring that Idaho's data will have to be good. . . Bangs said, "
If they try to give us some political garbage that's just a ploy, we're going to give them the thumbs down."

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  Copyright © 2006 Ralph Maughan

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Ralph Maughan PO Box 8264, Pocatello, ID 83209
Wolf Recovery Foundation; PO Box 444; Pocatello, ID  83204