Wolf board budget hearing

Wednesday's budget hearing on the Wolf Depredation Control Board included presenters speaking remotely on-screen from a state Division of Financial Management conference room to the Legislature's Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee.

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Idaho’s Wolf Depredation Control Board, which is funded by a mix of taxpayer funds, Fish & Game fee proceeds and livestock industry assessments, paid for killing 93 wolves in fiscal year 2020 for the protection of livestock, and another 17 to protect elk in the Lolo Elk Management Zone, the board reported to lawmakers today.

“Wildlife Services conducted 205 depredation investigations related to wolf complaints during fiscal year 2020,” Brian Oakey, deputy director of the Idaho Department of Agriculture, told the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee at the board’s annual budget hearing. Those investigations involved 111 different livestock producers in 16 counties, he said. They documented 102 confirmed depredations, or attacks on livestock by wolves; 28 probable; 53 possible or unknown; and “23 complaints were determined to be causes other than wolves,” Oakey said.

“Wildlife Services was authorized to conduct 103 control actions by the Idaho Department of Fish & Game,” Oakey said. “Ninety-three wolves were removed for the protection of livestock.”

Fish & Game also continued to conduct depredation work in game management units where ungulate populations, such as deer and elk, were being impacted, Oakey reported. In the Lolo Elk Management Zone, he said, “Helicopter-based capture and radio collar operations resulted in three wolves being fitted with radio collars and 17 wolves being lethally removed for ungulate protection.”

The Legislature created the wolf control board in 2014. It is authorized to contract for wolf removal, largely by shooting or trapping, but not to compensate livestock owners for losses. Lawmakers transferred $400,000 a year from the state general fund to the board each year for five years, at which point the program was set to expire; livestock owners and sportsmen also each kicked in up to $110,000 to match the state funds each year. Then, in 2019. lawmakers made the program permanent, though there was debate about its funding level as its balance built.

This year, in fiscal year 2021, the Legislature granted the board a direct base appropriation of $392,000 in state general funds. Because the funding is in the base, that amount will continue to be allocated each year unless lawmakers change it; Gov. Brad Little’s recommendation for next year is for no change. But with the direct appropriation, unlike past transfers, any unspent amounts from the appropriation would revert to the state general fund each year, rather continuing to build up in the wolf control board’s account. Unspent amounts from past transfers or from fees can continue to be carried over to the next year.

Betsy Z. Russell is the Boise bureau chief and state capitol reporter for the Idaho Press and Adams Publishing Group. Follow her on Twitter at @BetsyZRussell.

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