Sustainable Idaho: The Politics of Wolves
In last week’s episode of wolves, we discussed the history of wolves in Idaho, the reintroduction process, and wolf ecology. We learned that wolves have thrived in Idaho since their reintroduction.
In this week’s episode, we discussed the greatest arena of contention, the politics of wolves. We explored this issue by speaking with two Idaho representatives and an environmental advocate about the motivation for bill 1211 and its implications.
Representative Dustin Manwaring and Senator Van Burtenshaw. Burtenshaw both voted in favor of bill 1211. However, we wanted a better understanding of how their experiences and constituents’ perspectives motivated them to support expanding lethal management tools for wolves. Also, we spoke with Idaho Conservation League’s Public Lands Director, John Robison, to get the conservation perspective on the ecological consequences of the bill.
Manwaring first spoke to the bill seeking to address a deficit in the state’s capacity to manage wolves and various competing interests. Then, Burtenshaw expanded on how the state’s management of problem wolves is limited and very expensive. Both highlight that this bill is about the state expanding its capacity to address what they see as inadequate handling of wolves.
Headlines say that the bill mandates the killing of 90% of wolves, but Manwaring highlights that this is misleading. Out of the approximately 1500 wolves in Idaho, the bill protects 150 but does not set reaching that level as a goal. Manwaring said the risks of hitting this bottom threshold are low because the state would recalibrate guidelines if the number becomes too low.
John Robison, the Public Lands Director for the Idaho Conservation League, provided some counterpoints that these new and expanded lethal strategies are unnecessary because Idaho already offered vast opportunities to manage wolves lethally. Robison also noted that this bill was a violation of a long set norm of allowing Idaho Fish and Game autonomy to manage wildlife. Robison continues that this violation is why the Fish and Game Commission came out against the bill.
Conflict with livestock serves as a critical point of contention in the politics of wolves. According to numbers from Idaho Wildlife Services, the average number of livestock lost to wolves each year (over the past three years) is 113. Burtenshaw highlighted that he had heard many stories from constituents about the loss of livestock from depredation, which served as a motivation for the bill. Robison stated that killing wolves could be counterproductive in addressing depredation because wolves regulate coyote populations.
As of right now, we’re not entirely sure how Bill 1211 could affect wolf populations and indirectly affect other species and the ecosystem as a whole. On one side, ranchers want to protect their livelihoods, and on the other, conservationists are worried about Idaho’s ecosystems and the future of wildlife management. However, compromise is possible. Burtenshaw, a rancher himself, agreed that wolves play an essential role in Idaho’s ecosystem, and he believes this bill will help bring wolves to a manageable level. On the other hand, Robison expressed concern because the bill failed to integrate the diverse needs and contentions across the state.
Understanding that the perspectives from both ranchers and wildlife advocates come from a place of care for the state; can help us move forward together. So, if you’re passionate or want to learn more about Bill 1211, contact your local legislator or get involved in advocacy programs. Next week, we’ll be wrapping up our wolf series with an episode about different solutions, tools, and ways to manage wolves.