Public Comments on Wolf Proposal

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They came early and stayed for most of the four-hour hearing. A standing-room-only crowd of more than 140 filled the meeting room of the Idaho Fish and Game Department's Lewiston office. They listened intently to the 33 who spoke on a state proposal to remove up to 43 wolves in two game management units in the Clearwater Region.

Fish and Game biologists say wolf predation is a significant contributor to the decline of elk numbers in units 10 and 12, which comprise the Lolo elk management zone, and may be preventing population recovery. The proposal to reduce the wolf population is made under the revised 10(j) rule of the Endangered Species Act, which took effect in February 2005 and allows removal of wolves having an unacceptable effect on elk and deer populations.

Some said the wolves have driven all the elk from the Lolo zone; others said habitat conditions was the reason for the decline in elk numbers. Some said the proposal was merely political cover that Fish and Game shouldn't pass off as science; others praised the department for making a move to protect the Lolo elk herd.

Hunters and outfitters said they feared for their lives and their children and urged Fish and Game to remove more wolves.

They spoke before a panel of three: hearing officer Bob Ruesink, retired U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Field Supervisor; Fish and Game Director Steve Huffaker; and Fish and Game Commissioner Alex Irby of the Clearwater Region.

Earlier this month, about 75 people attended and 25 commented on the proposal during a February 2 hearing in Boise. Comments also have been trickling in steadily to Idaho Fish and Game via e-mail at wolfcomments@idfg.idaho.gov. Anyone interested may send written comments from the Fish and Game website at: http://fishandgame.idaho.gov; or by mail to: IDFG Wolf Comments, P.O. Box 25, Boise ID 83707. The deadline for comments is midnight February 17.

The proposal entitled "Effects of Wolf Predation on North Central Idaho Elk Populations" is available at: http://fishandgame.idaho.gov/cms/wildlife/wolves/wolf_control.cfm.

Written comments received by the deadline and oral comments from the two public hearings will be analyzed, summarized and submitted to the Fish and Game Commission. The commissioners will consider the comments and the proposal during their next meeting March 2 and 3. A public comment period will be held at 7 p.m. March 1 in the Trophy Room at Fish and Game headquarters in Boise.

Subject to the commissioners' approval, the package will be submitted to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for review under the criteria of the 10(j) rule.

Federal rules say the state's proposal "must be peer-reviewed and reviewed and commented on by the public, prior to a final determination by the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service that an unacceptable impact has occurred and that wolf removal is not likely to impede wolf recovery." The rule defines unacceptable impact as: "State or Tribally-determined decline in a wild ungulate population or herd, primarily caused by wolf predation, so that the population or herd is not meeting established State or Tribal management goals."

Wolf numbers in Idaho already exceed recovery goals, and limited removal of wolves from the Lolo zone will not adversely affect recovery. Idaho has an estimated 500 to 600 wolves in 61 packs and 36 breeding pairs. The U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service considers the population recovered when 30 breeding pairs are confirmed in three states. Idaho alone meets that goal. Federal officials are working on removing wolves in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming from the endangered species list, but the effort is hung up on legal challenges.

Elk numbers in the Lolo zone, however, are far below Idaho Fish and Game's management goals.