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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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Idaho and Montana wolves have had a pretty tough week. First, the wolf-panicked Idaho legislature authorized the Governor to take “disaster emergency” actions.  Then, the wolves were a subject of one of the few “policy riders” to survive the government shutdown budget brinksmanship. And on Saturday, even though it may not matter anymore, Judge Malloy in Montana tossed the proposed settlement of the continuing litigation over delisting the wolves from Endangered Species Act protections in the Northern Rockies.

What does it all mean? It’s maybe too early to say, but odds on a wolf hunt this fall are certainly not as long as they were a couple of days ago.

Here’s some of what we’ve been reading about it all:

Idaho legislature passes “wolf disaster emergency” legislation, making westerners look like wimps — Idaho Mountain Express

An editorial about the legislature’s not-exactly-scientific approach to wolves  — Idaho Statesman

Judge Malloy declines to accept the proposed settlement. — Idaho Statesman

The actual Malloy opinion, linked here,  is well-written and fascinating reading. (All the legal arguments, from all the parties, are linked here.)  — via Wildlife News

All that work by Judge Malloy may soon be moot.  The wolf rider is still attached to the federal budget resolution.  — Spokesman Review

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In a move that may, or may not, resolve the federal lawsuit over the delisting of wolves from Endangered Species Act protections, 10 of the 14 conservation and wildlife organizations that filed the lawsuit have agreed to a tentative settlement. Also, the tentative agreement may, or may not, cause Congress to reconsider efforts to delist wolves legislatively.

The agreement would be subject to approval by Judge Malloy in the federal courtroom in Montana, and subject to a number of procedural niceties. The basics of the agreement would return wolves to state management in Idaho and Montana, but not Wyoming or other bordering states with still-recovering populations of wolves. The agreement would also set up a scientific panel within two years to evaluate wolf recovery numbers in the region.

The deal, theoretically, eliminates any need for Congressional action, and notably, the settlement agreement states that it is “null and void” if Congress acts to delist wolves. Still, it appears as if Idaho’s Congressional delegation, all Republicans, are not backing off. However, the deal does have support from Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer, a Democrat. And Senator Max Baucus, a Democrat critical in Congressional budget negotiations, was non-committal.

We’re still parsing the words of the settlement, the words from congressional and political leaders, and words of the organizations involved in the lawsuit. Here’s what we’re reading:

Here’s the actual proposed settlement agreement (pdf)

Clear-eyed reporting and analysis from Idaho Statesman’s Rocky Barker.  And Montana reporting from the Missoulian.

Statements from Rep. Mike Simpson, Sen. Mike Crapo, Sen. Jim Risch, and Sen. Max Baucus.

The statement from the Interior Department regarding the settlement.

Statements from WildEarth Guardians (one of the groups not agreeing to the settlement), Defenders of Wildlife (and the other groups signing on to the settlement) and EarthJustice (formerly attorneys for all the groups, but now, because of the split, not attorneys for any of them).

UPDATE 3/20: More analysis from the Statesman’s Rocky Barker.

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The messy wolf issue is now getting messier, thanks to Rep. Mike Simpson (R-ID) in the House and Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT) in the Senate. In the “continuing resolution” needed to avoid a shutdown of the U.S. government, the two Congressmen have inserted language that would essentially de-list wolves from being covered under the Endangered Species Act in Idaho and Montana. Recall that a federal judge in Montana had ruled that the wolves must remain on the endangered list due to Wyoming’s failure to submit an approved management plan because the species must be considered one population and managed accordingly.

Regardless of how people feel about delisting wolves, however, the manner by which the Congressmen are attempting the delisting raises serious legal questions about how a federal government with separate branches of government is supposed to work.

The obscurely worded text of the proposed Senate provision (the House version is identical) is here:

“SEC. 1709. Before the end of the 60-day period beginning on the date of enactment of this division, the Secretary of the Interior shall reissue the final rule published on April 2, 2009 (74 Fed. Reg. 15123 et seq.) without regard to any other provision of statute or regulation that applies to issuance of such rule. Such re-issuance (including this section) shall not be subject to judicial review.”

Under our Constitution, the executive branch, the legislative branch, and the judicial branch are separate, with well-known “checks and balances” on each other.  This legislative provision, however, certainly usurps a lot of executive and judicial power.

The executive branch of government is charged with implementing the nation’s laws, and as part of doing so, agencies issue regulations to administer programs. Here, however, Congress is telling which regulation to issue, and when, and regardless whether the regulations comport with existing law — in this case the Endangered Species Act.

Meanwhile, the judicial branch of government is charged with interpreting the laws as applied in appropriate cases brought before a court. Here, Congress is eliminating any such jurisdiction of a Court to do so.

All of this is a complex area of federal jurisdiction and administrative law and would make for a great law school final exam question. In a strictly legal sense, Congress, arguably, can probably get away with what it intends to do here. Unless the president vetoes the entire continuing resolution — his “check” on this exercise of Congressional power in this instance — a provision like the one proposed will be the law of the land.

Ultimately, what this means is that the functional integrity of Endangered Species Act no longer exists. Rather than science, management of endangered species will be left to Congress, to legislate by loophole. This would be an unfortunate outcome beyond the wolves who will be “managed.” We hope during the next week or two of intensive debate, Congress will consider the consequences of this ad hoc loophole approach to governance.

UPDATE 3/7: The folks at NRDC point out that as the Senate takes up the continuing resolution, they have deleted all of the anti-environmental riders attached by the House of Representatives. Except one. This one.

UPDATE 4/10: The deal to avoid the dreaded government shutdown apparently still includes the rider.

UPDATE 4/12: The rider goes even further — it folds in a Wyoming court case too. This post from NRDC sums up the reasons why this rider is just plain bad government.

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I’m heading out of town for some mid-winter sunshine (I hope) and the blogging will be light, if at all, this week. Meanwhile, ponder some of this stuff coming out of Washington DC. The House GOP has some truly devastating cuts for environmental protection planned. Idaho Congressman Mike Simpson chairs the subcommittee that will inflict the damage.

Newt Gingrich wants to get rid of the EPA entirely. The House GOP budget proposal does it for him. — NRDC here and here.

The budget cuts funds for grants to state and local entities for clean drinking water and sewer construction projects. — NRDC

The proposed budget would be devastating for species protection efforts. — NRDC (Including wolves)

BLM’s effort to manage wild lands? That’s not happening either. — Idaho Statesman (See also Idaho Reporter on the state legislature’s nullification fetish extending to the BLM.)

 

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As the lame duck session of the U.S. Congress draws to a close, Idaho’s Senators threw some wild punches today and come away with nothing but embarrassment.

First, as the final debate of the START treaty got underway this afternoon, Senator Crapo brings up, of all things, the issue of wolves. From Washington Post reporter Felicia Sonmez:

Indeed, our Senator Crapo asked for unanimous consent to take up the issue, knowing full well that it was out of line and wouldn’t be granted, and then issued a press release decrying the lack of action on wolves.

Then there’s this exchange between Senator Risch and Senator Cardin on the START treaty, also reported  elegantly on twitter by CBS reporter Mark Knoller:

After first quipping that the plot of Mission Impossible IV will be the retrieval of these four Humvees by Tom Cruise, Knoller continues:

And the great deliberative body of the U.S. Senate gently sets aside our Senator’s Humvee issue and gets on with more pressing business:

Here’s hoping that 2011, and the 112th Congress, will bring better representation for our state.

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