Idaho is out of the wolf management business, Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter announced on Monday.

"While some herald the introduction of wolves and the current population as a biological triumph, history will show that this program was a tragic example of oppressive, ham-handed ‘conservation' at its worst," Otter wrote in a letter to U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar. "Idahoans have suffered this intolerable situation for too long, but starting today at least the state no longer will be complicit."

That means Idaho Fish and Game biologists and wardens will no longer monitor wolves, investigate suspected wolf kills or provide state law enforcement in response to illegal takings, according to Otter's spokesman, Jon Hanian.

"That's a part of wolf management, and that's going to become somebody else's problem," Hanian said. "Our Fish and Game folks are going to be engaged in refocusing our efforts to protect our ungulate populations, our deer and elk."

The announcement cast a different light on comments by Rep. Denny Rehberg, R-Mont., who last week claimed Otter was going to make Idaho a "sanctuary state" where federal Endangered Species Act rules wouldn't be enforced.

Still, Hanian said Idaho was not going to become "a free-fire zone" for wolf hunters. But he did say Idaho game wardens would not investigate wolf-poaching incidents - something Rehberg said he'd also heard was coming.

When interviewed last Friday, Hanian and Idaho Fish and Game officials said they did not believe Idaho was going to become a safe haven for anti-wolf activity. But they did say a new policy was expected to be unveiled this week - which was confirmed on Monday with Otter's statements.

In 2006, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service accepted wolf management plans from Idaho and Montana as the federal agency moved toward removing the wolf from Endangered Species Act protections. Both states included public wolf hunts as part of their plans.

Montana and Idaho wolves were delisted in 2008, but a coalition of conservation groups sued the federal government to block the action. U.S. District Judge Don Molloy allowed a 2009 wolf hunt to take place, but decided this August that the Fish and Wildlife Service had improperly kept Wyoming wolves under federal protection while releasing the other two states.

That decision canceled the planned 2010 wolf hunts in Montana and Idaho and maintained the wolf's protected status in all three states.

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"In light of the federal court ruling, the wolf is again on the endangered species list and therefore we cannot currently authorize the resumption of sport hunting of wolves," U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service spokeswoman Kendra Barkoff wrote in an e-mail response to the Idaho announcement. "Up to this point, we appreciate the states of Idaho and Montana who have been working responsibly to manage wolves; nonetheless, we must follow the court's ruling. We are committed to continuing to work with Idaho, Montana and Wyoming to address the wolf issue in a balanced manner that addresses the predation issue and conservation of the elk population."

The federal government has been funding wolf management programs in both Idaho and Montana as part of the "designated agent" agreements.

Hanian said Idaho didn't believe those reimbursements would "adequately cover what we see is more and more expenses for reintroduction and management." He said the Idaho move was to prevent any more state hunting license dollars from being used to fund wolf activity.

Montana has not indicated any intention to end its designated wolf agent agreement with the federal government. But state Fish, Wildlife and Parks commissioners have asked for the return of wolf hunts and supported both state and congressional efforts to change the wolf's protected status.

Those efforts include proposals for exemptions from the Endangered Species Act to hunt wolves in some or all of the state, and several congressional bills that might remove the wolf from Endangered Species Act protection. Montana senators Max Baucus and Jon Tester have introduced one such bill, while Rehberg has drafted one of his own and supported another.

Reporter Rob Chaney can be reached at 523-5382 or at rchaney@missoulian.com.

 

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