Wolf budget hearing

Idaho Fish and Game Director Ed Schriever, standing, answers a question from legislative budget writers on Wednesday about the Wolf Depredation Control Board; at right is board member Carl Rey, who presented the board’s budget request to lawmakers.

Gov. Brad Little is recommending $200,000 more for the state’s Wolf Control Depredation Board next year — half the amount the board has received each of the past five years to contract for the killing of problem wolves, through aerial shooting and trapping.

He’s also recommending legislation to remove the “sunset clause” under which the board would otherwise expire this spring; that would make it permanent.

When Carl Rey, board member, presented the budget request to the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee this morning, Sen. Van Burtenshaw, R-Terreton, asked why funding would be falling when “our depredation complaints are up.”

Amber Christofferson, Division of Financial Management budget analyst, told JFAC, “Historically the fund has been healthy and there has typically been concerns about too much fund availability, contribution of general fund into that fund. … And so the governor’s office did approach the wolf board, and the wolf board did assure the governor that the $200,000 would be sufficient to cover expenditures for this fiscal year to get them through.”

In recent years, JFAC members have argued over the issue, noting big and unspent balances in the fund even as more general fund money was requested, but the panel’s always approved the full amount the governor recommended. The board contracts with USDA Wildlife Services and Idaho Fish & Game to kill problem wolves that threaten livestock or wild game.

For fiscal year 2019, the current year, the fund has a balance of more than $600,000.

Rey said, “With respect to the $200,00 request, and I believe it’s already been clarified. The original $400,000 request that this board has requested for five years running was really a mathematical derivation of what the governor originally proposed as a $2 million one-time appropriation. So when the wolf board put forth its request of $400,000 initially, it was based on just continuing what we had been doing. In light of the fact that the state is in a deficit this year, in light of the fact that the wolf board has a surplus, we’re fine with the $200,000 this year. I will tell you that I don’t think that is sustainable.”

Fiscal year 2018 was the first time that the board actually spent more than it was allocated, he noted; it spent $765,000 that year. In addition to the state taxpayer money it receives each year, the board gets funding from sportsmen through Idaho Fish & Game and from the livestock industry through an assessment.

Sen. Jeff Agenbroad, R-Nampa, noted the rising spending, and asked Rey, “Are you doing more of the same, or are you doing something different? And what different results are you getting or do you expect to get?”

Rey responded, “We’re doing more of the same. … Wolf depredation control is expensive. They use helicopters a lot, there’s a lot of boots on the ground doing on-the-ground trapping. Those activities continue. We have seen expenditures trending upward since the program started.”

He added, “I believe that the money that Idaho citizens and livestock producers and sportsmen have invested in this program has resulted in important and positive outcomes. Wolves, like any other predator, will always require management; they’re not going away.”

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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