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Often, our job seems like an exercise in futility. Today, KEA sent yet another set of comments regarding wolf management to Idaho’s Department of Fish and Game.  Shielded from lawsuits (maybe), the Department is free to push the state’s wolf management balance back toward extinction.

On the table at the quarterly meeting of the Fish and Game Commission’s meeting in Salmon this week, are hunting and trapping seasons for wolves that we believe go far beyond what would be reasonable and sustainable.  With no limits on taking wolves in some regions – including the panhandle – the plan isn’t really much of a plan.

Fundamentally, we continue to oppose a wildlife management philosophy that so strongly favors an un-endangered class of animals at the detriment of an endangered or threatened one.  The balance between predator and prey is one that will reach equilibrium naturally if left alone to do so.  Indeed, we think that predators should return naturally to their fundamental ecological roles instead of the heavy-handed human interventions to adjust nature to our preferences.

Nevertheless, we acknowledge the political desire for more active management. We would just prefer that management be based in facts, science, and transparent honesty.

The current stated target population for wolves in Idaho — 150 wolves and 15 breeding pairs — is not based in science, but rather old school ideas about what minimal wolf populations should be.  Of course, Congressionally-established immunity from judicial review helps. Still, accepting arguendo the premise that there should be specific numeric targets, having no hunting quotas or limits whatsoever in certain zones is arbitrary and indefensible.

Idaho’s plan proposes tracking and monitoring wolf kills, with the Commission supposedly able to review and adjust the plan at its November and January meetings. But the plan gives no indication as to how the adjustments would be made, and under what criteria. Indeed, we suspect that there are secret harvest quotas in each of the no-quota zones, but that the Department and the Commission do not have the political courage to honestly announce them.

Instead, we have a season that quite literally relies on the failure of hunters. While complete extermination of a wolf population in a particular zone might be cheered by some, it would be a disaster for wolf management, and it would probably not survive federal scrutiny.  Even if there is reason to be emboldened by the recent Congressional intervention, the Commission should not so blatantly test the limits of federal interests if it wants to continue state control over wolf management in the long run.

Sure, other animals are managed without limits. But the Department’s rationalizing analogy to management of black bears and mountain lions, for example, is inapposite. Other species have longer histories of much more robust, stable populations, with well-established and similarly stable hunting seasons. Also, black bears and mountain lions are not as endangered.

To be completely clear, Kootenai Environmental Alliance is not opposed to sustainable management of sustainable wolf populations if such management is based in fact, sound science, and honest transparency. In this instance, though, Idaho Fish and Game has proposed no such plan.

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Idaho”s Department of Fish and Game has proposed an aggressive wolf hunting season to start August 30 and run through March of next year.  In addition, the agency is also proposing a trapping season (to allow both snare and foothold traps) from December 1 through February 15 through much of North Idaho.  The agency is not proposing “harvest limits” in the Panhandle, Lolo, Selway and Middle Fork Zones.  (See the coverage by the Coeur d’Alene Press, Spokesman-Review, and Idaho Statesman.)

This is, of course, why there are lawsuits. How does an agency “manage” a population if it doesn’t set numeric targets or limits?  But with Congress covering the agency’s metaphorical behind, IDFG seems to be happy to rely on the inability of hunters to actually kill the hard-to-find wolves as their sole management strategy.

The Idaho Fish and Game Commission will consider the proposal at the quarterly meeting in Salmon starting July 27th. Send them your comments.

Update 7/12:  Idaho Fish and Game has posted a “survey” to take your comments.  It’s rigged, but feel free…

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The long-awaited Endangered Species Act decision on wolves from U.S. District Judge Molloy in Missoula was released yesterday. The reaction was immediate and occasionally over the top:

Wolves go back on the list. — Missoulan (Note: a copy of the actual opinion is linked from this article)

Idaho Fish and Game is “very disappointed.” — IDFG

Governor Otter is “thoroughly disappointed and frustrated “– via CDAPress

NRDC, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit to protect the wolves is “thrilled with today’s ruling, but now it’s really time to update the recovery standards and come up with a plan that ensures the recovery of wolves in the Northern Rockies over the long term.” — NRDC

No middle ground? And what about Wyoming? — Rocky Barker

Wyoming doesn’t care, and no settlement talks either. — Spokesman Review

UPDATE 8/7: Not-very-promising Wyoming perspectives. — Casper Star-Tribune

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