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Idaho's Wolf Saga is a Tale of Broken Promieses

Op-Ed

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By Governor C.L. "Butch" Otter

It was 30 years ago that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Northern Rocky Mountain Wolf Recovery Plan was signed. It called for transplanting wolves into central Idaho and Yellowstone National Park. The goal was to have 30 breeding pairs of wolves for three successive years in three designated areas of Idaho, Montana and Wyoming before delisting wolves and turning management over to the states.

Jimmy Carter was president. Cecil Andrus was Secretary of Interior.

Three decades later, Barack Obama is president and Ken Salazar is Secretary of Interior. And instead of 30 breeding pairs of wolves in the three-state region, we now have hundreds upon hundreds of wolves in scores of packs in Idaho alone, killing our elk, deer and livestock. The goal, intended to trigger the process of taking wolves off the endangered species list, was met in 2003.

What happened?

Government happened. Environmental absolutists and their willing allies in the federal courts happened.

It was 20 years ago that Congress established a national Wolf Management Committee to develop a gray wolf introduction and management plan for Yellowstone National Park and the central Idaho wilderness.

George H.W. Bush was president. Cecil Andrus was governor.

Two decades later, both the senior President Bush and Governor Andrus are long since retired. But the wolves are still here and still protected by federal law. That's more than you can say for our elk, deer and livestock or the Idaho families supported by hunting-related businesses or ranching. They remain just voices in the wilderness to policy makers in Washington, D.C., and wolf advocates around the world.

But not to me.

During the past few years my administration:

* Enacted a law in 2008 enabling owners of livestock and domestic animals to kill any wolf found molesting or attacking their animals -- similar to laws on black bears and mountain lions.
* Twice participated in the federal delisting process, in 2008 and 2009.
* Aggressively defended delisting and Idaho's approved wolf management plan against two court cases, which now have advanced to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
* Worked with Idaho ranchers and sportsmen and legislators in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming toward developing a coordinated approach to addressing wolves in the region.
* Worked with Montana Congressman Denny Rehberg and Idaho's congressional delegation on changes to the Endangered Species Act regarding wolves.
* Met with Interior Secretary Salazar and top Fish and Wildlife Service officials this summer and fall in an attempt to get the authority and flexibility Idaho needs to effectively manage wolves.
* Ended Idaho's federal "designated agent" status to refocus our efforts on protecting our ungulates and ensure Idaho sportsmen's dollars will not be spent on managing wolves until the species is delisted.

My first responsibility as governor is to the citizens and communities of Idaho. Of course we must respect and obey federal laws, but the First Amendment also empowers all of us to "petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

Wolves are a grievance. Judge Molloy's rulings that ignore realities on the ground and the responsible steps Idaho has taken to sustainably manage wolves are a grievance. Repeated legal claims by wolf advocates with nothing more at stake than their fund-raising efforts is a grievance.

We are up to our necks in grievances … and wolves. But so far, there has been no redress.

In January 1995 -- more than 15 years ago -- four wolves were trapped in Canada and released at Corn Creek on the edge of the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness. Eleven more were released at Indian Creek and Thomas Creek along the Middle Fork of the Salmon River in central Idaho. Twenty more wolves were released into the wilderness near Dagger Falls.

Their progeny -- roughly 1,000 strong -- now fill Idaho's backcountry and are decimating our big game herds. They have killed sheep, cattle and pets. They have become famous in the parlors of Europe and the East and West coasts as heroic victims of mindless hatred. But in reality they are none of that. They are a burgeoning and hungry population which has grown far beyond even the wildest hopes of wolf advocates, or the nightmares of sportsmen and ranchers.

I understand that Secretary Salazar and the Fish and Wildlife Service also have been taken for a ride by the selective memory and tunnel vision of wolf advocates. I truly believe that the agency and even the Secretary would delist wolves tomorrow if they could. But the federal government's broader inability to back up its commitments has gone from frustrating to costly and -- in my view -- beyond the scope or intent even of the badly flawed Endangered Species Act.

The federal government and wolf advocates made promises about delisting and State management when then-Idaho Fish and Game Director Jerry Conley agreed to accept an "experimental, nonessential population" of wolves in Idaho. Getting them to live up to those promises will remain my commitment to the people of Idaho -- for as long as it takes.


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