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Idaho Commission sends open letter to hunters, residents

From the Idaho Fish and Game Commission

-- Wildlife managers and biologists agree that the wolf population in Idaho recovered years ago, and that wolf numbers now need to be controlled to reduce conflicts with people and wildlife.

The recent court decision bypassed science and put Idaho wolves back under the protection of the Endangered Species Act based on a legal technicality. Now we must deal with a difficult situation.

The Endangered Species Act severely limits Idaho's abilities to manage wolves, and it is tempting to turn wolf management over to the federal government until wolves can be delisted again. But U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials have told us they wouldn't manage wolves to protect Idaho elk herds, and they don't share our motivation to protect the interests of our ranchers, pet owners, hunters and rural communities.

We looked carefully at our options and potential consequences. We decided that as long as we are making a difference, we must stay engaged in wolf management to protect Idaho's interests and rights. Only as a last resort will we leave the fate of Idaho residents and wildlife entirely in the hands of the federal government.

Part of the reason we feel that way is because of how we got to where we are.

With the court decision to relist wolves for the second time, the federal system has failed us. Defenders of Wildlife and other special interest groups are using a parade of lawsuits to tie the federal government in knots, and the result is against common sense, responsible wildlife management, and the stated intent of the Endangered Species Act. While we will work within the rule of law, we will use all of our influence and authority to make this right and put wolf management back in Idaho's hands where it belongs.

Idaho's lawyers will ask a court of appeals to overturn U.S. District Court Judge Donald Molloy's ruling, but we believe the best solution is to change the law directly. We will work with Idaho's congressional delegation, Idaho Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter and other states to resolve this problem through federal legislation. Solutions will probably not be easy or quick. We will need all of the support we can get to make this happen, and we will keep you posted as to how you can best help these efforts.

While we are pursuing change in the courts and in Congress, we will make the most of the authorities available to us. We support Gov. Otter's efforts to reach a new agreement with U.S. Fish and Wildlife to ensure as much flexibility as possible in managing wolves. The Idaho Fish and Game Commission recommended that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service be in charge of Endangered Species Act enforcement while Idaho focuses on protecting its elk herds and reducing wolf conflicts. It should also be the federal government's role to fund wolf management, and we support restricting the use of hunters' license dollars for wolf management as long as wolves are federally protected.

We will continue to insist on population control, particularly in areas where wolf predation is hurting our wildlife. The processes for getting federal agency approvals involve considerable paperwork and time and impose requirements that are an additional source of frustration. For example, because of federal legal requirements, Idaho Fish and Game managers have to use wolf population estimates that are "minimum," so we know we are underestimating the number of wolves in Idaho.

Likewise, to control wolves to protect elk herds under the "10(j)" provision of the Endangered Species Act, Idaho must demonstrate wolf predation impacts based on data that takes time to collect. We must also have our proposals reviewed by at least five scientists outside our agencies. That means we end up a year or more behind the times, using data that often doesn't match up with what you see in the woods today. We have gotten to the point where we will soon submit a "10(j)" proposal to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for wolf control actions in the Lolo Zone, and other proposals are being developed. When delisting occurred previously, we were poised with a proposal then, too.

As you can tell, we are in a tough struggle to regain state management, with scientific and legal battles on many fronts. We are concerned that some matters are dividing our community when we need to be united. For example, there are some who want to argue about what happened in Idaho politics when wolves were introduced in 1994. While we commit to learning from history, we do not want to waste our energy trying to attack, defend, or change the past.

We are fighting a national battle of perception.

It is easy to paint an ideal world of nature from a desk far away from rural Idaho. We need your help to explain why it is important to manage Idaho's wolf population, just like we manage other wildlife. Someone who wouldn't think twice about calling animal control to pick up stray dogs in the city may not think about how wolves are affecting the lives of Idahoans in similar ways - unless we tell them.

National activist groups try to portray the average Idahoan as a wolf exterminator, lazy hunter or crazy extremist. We need your help to prove them wrong, just as Idahoans did when we participated responsibly in the first wolf hunting season in the lower 48 states. We need your help to support change through social networks across the country.

If state authorities are further undermined by court decisions or inaction at the federal level, there may come a time where we decide the best thing to do is to surrender and leave wolf management up to the federal government until wolves are delisted. But for now we believe the best place to fix the system and protect Idaho's interests is by staying involved in management. We appreciate your support. - The Idaho Fish and Game Commission

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