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US plans end to wolf protections; critics say it's premature

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — U.S. wildlife officials plan to lift protections for gray wolves across the Lower 48 states, re-igniting the legal battle over a predator that’s running into conflicts with farmers and ranchers as its numbers rebound in some regions.

The proposal would give states the authority to hold wolf hunting and trapping seasons. It was announced Wednesday by acting Interior Secretary David Bernhardt at a wildlife conference in Denver.

Wolves had previously lost federal protections in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming, where hunters and trappers now kill hundreds of the animals annually.

Wildlife advocates and some members of Congress reacted with outrage to the latest proposal and promised to challenge any final decision in court.

Jamie Rappaport Clark, a former director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service now with the group Defenders of Wildlife, warned of an “all-out war on wolves” if the plan advances.

“We don’t have any confidence that wolves will be managed like other wildlife,” she said.

But government officials countered that the recovery of wolves from widespread extermination last century has worked and they no longer need the Endangered Species Act to shield them.

“Recovery of the gray wolf under the Endangered Species Act is one of our nation’s great conservation successes, with the wolf joining other cherished species, such as the bald eagle, that have been brought back from the brink,” U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service spokesman Gavin Shire said in an emailed statement.

Agriculture groups and lawmakers from Western states are likely to support the administration’s proposal.

Further details were expected during a formal announcement planned in coming days.

Long despised by farmers and ranchers, wolves were shot, trapped and poisoned out of existence in most of the U.S. by the mid-20th century.

They received endangered species protections in 1975, when there were about 1,000 left, only in northern Minnesota. Now more than 5,000 of the animals live in the contiguous U.S.

Most are in the Western Great Lakes and Northern Rockies regions.

Protections for the Northern Rockies population were lifted in 2011. State officials and government biologists say the region’s wolves have continued to thrive despite pressure from hunting. The animals are prolific breeders and can adapt to a variety of habitats.

Wildlife advocates want to keep federal protections kept in place until wolves repopulate more of a historical range that stretched across most of North America.

Since being reintroduced in Yellowstone National park and central Idaho in the mid-1990s, the Northern Rockies population has expanded to parts of Oregon, Washington and California.

Those states so far have not allowed hunting, despite growing pressure from ranchers whose livestock herds have been attacked.

The Fish and Wildlife Service has argued for years that gray wolves have recovered in the lower 48 states, despite experts who contend they occupy only about 15 percent of the territory they once roamed. Agency officials insist the recovery of wolves everywhere is not required for the species no longer to be in danger of extinction.

John Vucetich, a wildlife biologist at Michigan Technological University, said most wolf experts probably would agree the species is not at imminent risk. But said he dropping federal protections was a premature move.

Many people “still find it difficult to live with wolves,” primarily because they kill livestock as well as deer and elk that people like to hunt, Vucetich said. If wolves are returned to state management, he said, “I do worry that some of the states could be overly aggressive and that wolves could fare worse than their current condition.”

The government first proposed revoking the wolf’s protected status across the Lower 48 states in 2013. It backed off after federal courts struck down its plan for “delisting” the species in the western Great Lakes region states of Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin.

Fish and Wildlife Service officials disclosed to the AP last year that another scientific review of the animal’s status had been launched.

Shire declined to disclose the agency’s rationale for determining the species had recovered, but said members of the public would have a chance to comment before a final decision in coming months.

Ryan Yates, director of congressional relations for the American Farm Bureau Federation, applauded the federal agency’s plan and said many farmers and ranchers have lost livestock to wolf kills since the species was granted legal protections. The farmers and ranchers will respect state regulations aimed at managing wolf populations, he said.

“Some people like them, some people don’t, but the law’s the law,” Yates said.

Lawmakers in Congress frustrated with court rulings maintaining protections for wolves have backed legislation to forcibly strip protections in the Great Lakes region and beyond. A similar effort by lawmakers ended protections for Northern Rockies wolves.

Sacrifice, reflection, improvement: Magic Valley churches observing Lent

TWIN FALLS — Forty days can feel like a lifetime when sacrificing the little things that help people get through the day.

But through such suffering comes personal improvement, according to some of the Magic Valley’s religious leaders as they and their congregations begin observing Lent, the 40-day period of penance between Ash Wednesday and Holy Saturday, the day before Easter.

There is no prescribed method for observing Lent, but reflection during this time is recommended, said the Rev. Buddy Gharring, the pastor at First United Methodist Church of Twin Falls.

The Methodist Church will be having gatherings throughout the 40 days called “Holding Space,” a chance to talk about introspection gained through sacrifice. Conversations take place 9:30 a.m. at 360 Shoshone St. E.

“This is a great period of time to create some space and silence in life,” Gharring said. “There are often thoughts and emotions we try and keep ourselves distracted with. I think Lent is best spent trying to work through those emotions and distractions and going towards community.”

People often give up physical things: coffee, chocolate or meat, said the Rev. Anne Palma, pastor at Our Savior Lutheran Church. She encourages people to try to have a smaller environmental impact and reduce plastic use. There is also a large shift toward giving up bad spiritual habits, she said; giving up gossiping, malice or turning it into positive feelings.

Every Wednesday through Lent the Lutheran church will offer soup at 6 p.m. and a service at 7 p.m. at 464 Carriage Lane N.

The church will be collecting money to give to the Salvation Army at the end of Lent, she said. An alternative to giving up is giving back. Palma recommends collecting something that you can part with each day of Lent and giving it away to the less fortunate.

“If we suffer a little, the hope is that we turn our attention to God,” Palma said.

Ultimately Lent is about saying no to pathologies of indulgence, said the Rev. Joseph Lustig, the priest at St. Edward’s Catholic Church.

Lent serves as a reminder that humans are mortal and should put more time toward a higher power, he said. Saint Edward’s is offering a day retreat in English March 16 and in Spanish March 23 at 161 Sixth Ave. E.

“When I can’t look at my phone 50 times a day, I see where I’m spending all my time,” Lustig said.

Lent is a good time to practice self-control even if you aren’t religious, Lustig said. It’s an opportunity to try out a new diet or start spring cleaning.

“Be hungry so you know you exist,” Lustig said.

Idaho House passes sex ed opt-in bill

BOISE — After an hour long debate, the House voted along party lines Wednesday to pass a bill requiring parents to opt their children into any sex education courses offered in Idaho schools.

Pushed by Rep. Barbara Ehardt, R-Idaho Falls, House Bill 120 would reverse the procedures for how sex education is taught in Idaho. Currently, Idaho law allows parents to opt their children out of sex education. Under Ehardt’s bill, students could not take sex education unless their parents specifically filled out paperwork to opt them in.

“HB 120 is about parental involvement in our children’s sexual content,” Ehardt said. “This bill is about consent, not about content.”

In committee and on the House floor, Ehardt and other supporters said that sex education courses stray from a strict, abstinence-only teachings and do not align with Idaho values. During her floor debate, Ehardt said sex ed courses normalize sexual behavior and include instructions for use of condoms.

However, opponents argued that requiring an opt-in program would create a bureaucratic and administrative hurdle that could result in far fewer students having access to information about sex education, their bodies and their reproductive systems. Opponents also argued that passing such as bill could endanger children that are abused by their parents — since abusive parents would seek to block access to information about sexual abuse, consent and the reproductive system.

“It is possible when kids are being abused, because of a lack of knowledge or information, they might not be able to identify what is happening to them,” said Rep. Melissa Wintrow, D-Boise.

During a Feb. 26 committee hearing, 18 of the 21 people who testified on the bill — including a number of high school students — all opposed its passage.

In the end, all 56 House Republicans voted in favor of the bill on Wednesday while all 14 Democrats opposed it.

HB 120 next heads to the Senate for consideration. Its first stop will likely be in the Senate Education Committee.

Warrantless arrests

A divided House also passed a bill to allow police officers to arrest, without a warrant, a suspect in a threat against a school.

House Bill 209 stems from a March 2018 incident involving an online threat against two Moscow schools. Absentee rates surged the day of the threats, and neighbors volunteered to provide armed protection at the schools. But a new state law governing online school threats would not allow officers to make an arrest. (More about the incident from the Moscow Daily News.)

“We should give them the full range of tools ... to do their jobs,” said Rep. Bill Goesling, R-Moscow, the bill’s sponsor.

Rep. Bryan Zollinger, R-Idaho Falls, lauded the bill’s intent but criticized its wording. By allowing warrantless arrests in a home, he said, the bill violated constitutional protections.

The bill passed, 47-22, and heads to the Senate.

Funding formula update

The House Education Committee continued to debate drafts of proposals to rewrite Idaho’s K-12 public school funding formula.

But an actual bill has yet to materialize, and it doesn’t look like one is coming Thursday either. House Education is not scheduled to meet Thursday, so it appears Friday could be the earliest a bill would come up for introduction.

On Wednesday, legislators took turns dissecting two different draft bills. Chairman Lance Clow, R-Twin Falls, has spent the past three days discussing a draft that was written with input from several education groups. Rep. Wendy Horman, R-Idaho Falls, said she worked with Sen. Lori Den Hartog, R-Meridian, on a different version, based on an earlier draft the Legislature’s Public School Funding Formula Interim Committee presented to the education committees in January.

At this point, legislative leaders are working toward adjourning the session later this month, so time could be running out for a major funding overhaul to move forward.

Hollister woman dead after U.S. 30 crash near Buhl

BUHL — A Hollister woman died and two people were taken to a Boise hospital after a Tuesday evening crash on U.S. Highway 30 near Buhl.

Robin Parry, 37, drifted over the center line while driving a 2006 Subaru Impreza west at 5:21 p.m. and hit a 2013 Toyota Tacoma driven the other direction by Dennis Norwood, 62, of Buhl, Idaho State Police said.

The Tacoma went off the right shoulder of the road while Parry’s vehicle stopped in the eastbound lanes at milepost 195.4, ISP said in a statement.

Parry died at the scene of the crash, ISP said. Norwood and his passenger, Derek Haas, 50 of Hagerman, were taken by helicopter to Saint Alphonsus Regional Medical Center in Boise.

Parry and Haas were wearing seat belts, but Norwood was not, ISP said.

U.S. 30 was blocked until about 8 p.m.

If you do one thing

If you do one thing: A community dance will feature music by the Shadows Band from 7 to 10 p.m. at the Snake River Elks Lodge, 412 E. 200 S., Jerome. Admission is $5.

Denney forgot to budget for $2 million presidential primary next year

BOISE — Idaho Secretary of State Lawerence Denney forgot to budget for the 2020 presidential primary, creating an unpleasant $2 million surprise for legislative budget writers who set his office’s budget on Wednesday.

The Legislature’s Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee had already set all but 4 percent of the state’s general fund budget for next year, working through it agency by agency over the past month, when Denney’s came up with a $2 million hole in it.

“Obviously, budget writers never like surprises, and the presidential primary is an additional line item in here,” said Rep. Paul Amador, R-Coeur d’Alene. He asked Denney, “I’m just curious as to what happened and why that wasn’t included, and then maybe the protocols you’re putting in place to make sure it isn’t a surprise next time.”

Denney responded, “Y’know, last time around was the first time for the presidential primary, and it was not included in a regular budget bill, it was included in the bill actually for the presidential primary. And it slipped through the cracks.”

“This is in the actual budget, so I think from here on out, here every four years it will show up,” Denney said, “so I don’t think it will fall through the cracks. We will notice from here on out.”

“That would be very good,” said Sen. Steve Bair, R-Blackfoot, JFAC co-chair.

A group of JFAC members who worked on the budget scrambled but could find no other alternative than to add a $2 million unexpected line item from the state general fund to the budget for the Secretary of State’s office next year.

Sen. Carl Crabtree, R-Grangeville, joked, “We don’t want to confuse effort with achievement. We spent a lot of effort.”

Bair said, “It didn’t work out the way we had hoped, but at the end of the day we have a budget.”

The Legislature in 2015 created a stand-alone presidential primary, to be held on the second Tuesday in March in each presidential election year, for the Republican presidential primary election in 2016, and required the state to pick up all the costs. That’s two months before Idaho’s existing primary election date; the idea was to increase Idaho’s profile in the presidential nominating process by holding an earlier primary.

The bill was controversial and drew bipartisan opposition but was sponsored by House and Senate GOP leaders, passed and was signed into law by then-Gov. Butch Otter.

At the time, only the Idaho Republican Party, whose primary elections are closed to all non-party members, and the state’s tiny Constitution Party were holding presidential primary elections; Democrats were choosing their presidential delegates through caucuses.

Last June at its state convention, the Idaho Democratic Party voted to switch to a presidential primary, rather than caucuses, in 2020. “We’re already paying for it,” party chairman Bert Marley said then. “It’s coming out of our tax money. We decided if we’re paying for it, we might as well be using it, too.”

The budget set for the Idaho Secretary of State’s office for next year, approved on a unanimous vote in the joint committee, came to $5.7 million in state general funds, a 50.7 percent increase, because of the additional $2 million item.

The budget still needs approval from the full House and Senate and the governor’s signature to become law, but budget bills rarely change once they’re set by the 20-member joint committee. JFAC is scheduled to finish setting state agency budgets on Friday.

Denney, 71, a farmer and former speaker of the Idaho House, is in his fifth year as Idaho’s Secretary of State; in November, he was re-elected to a second four-year term.