TWIN FALLS • While wolves were busy killing a record number of sheep and cattle in Idaho last year, lawmakers and environmentalists were busy amassing money to renew their longstanding battles over the predator.
On July 1, the Idaho Wolf Depredation Control Board was established to kill wolves that attack livestock and eat elk through $400,000 in tax money, livestock levies and sportsmen’s fees.
In response, Defenders of Wildlife, a national organization, began a high-dollar media campaign in Idaho calling for Gov. C.L. Butch Otter to end his “War on Wolves.” The conservationists purchased online ads in Boise and Hailey-based newspapers and radio spots across the state. Clicking on some of them leads to an online petition, others have a “donate now” button.
That proves what Steve Alder, executive director of Idaho for Wildlife, said he has long suspected — conservationists are using Idaho’s wolf population to line their pockets. As one of the state’s leading anti-wolf contingents, Alder’s group has frequently locked horns with environmentalists, including a winter wolf derby and a spat over a dead colt in Hailey.
“That’s all it’s about is the money,” Alder said. “They don’t care about wildlife — just money.”
Carey-area rancher John Peavey agreed — there’s a lot of coin to be made from heart-heavy environmental issues.
“I’ve attended some of the meetings they have and the feeling I get is that they are short on money,” he said. “… But they couldn’t afford as many wolves as they have in Idaho.”
Not so, says Defenders’ Suzanne Stone — her group has opened its pocketbook to help fund non-lethal wolf deterrents. From 2010 through mid-2014, Defenders spent $230,000 on non-lethal wolf management, not including staff time.
“We’ve spent more on direct wolf conservation efforts in the region than any other environmental organization and all environmental organizations involved in wolf conservation are asking for money,” said Stone, a Boise-based representative. “We have been putting our money where our mouth is.”
While headlines and advertising space have been dominated by money being spent to kill wolves, less attention has been given to compensating ranchers for their lost livestock.
Last year, wolves killed 39 cattle and 404 sheep, a record according to Idaho Fish and Game statistics. The year before, they killed 90 cattle and 251 sheep across the state.
In Fish and Game's Southern Mountain area, which includes the Wood River Valley, wolves killed 34 cattle and 79 sheep in 2012. Last year, they killed 23 cattle and 146 sheep there.
In response, 94 wolves were killed from helicopters, up from 73 in 2012. Hunters and trappers took 356 wolves last year, up from 330 the year before. Fish and Game estimates Idaho is now home to 659 wolves, down from 722 the year before and 856 in their peak year of 2009.
Defenders paid Idaho ranchers more than $500,000 on livestock losses from wolves’ reintroduction in 1995 to 2010, Stone said. Since then the state has struggled to come up with similar funding, said Dustin Miller, administrator of the Governor’s Office on Species Conservation. Federal funding is tight, he said.
Miller said the state received $80,000 from a federal program to compensate ranchers for losses filed and backlogged from 2012. But the money was not enough to pay ranchers market rates. With other states and tribal groups again competing and record losses in Idaho last year, reimbursement funding may be stretched thinner, he said.
The state also received $50,000 in prevention money, but hasn’t decided how to use it, he said.
“We’ve seen (Defenders’) ads and propaganda in the press and they continue to raise money on the wolf issue, but we have no idea where they are going to put that money,” Miller said.
Stone could not say what percentage of money raised has, or will go to non-lethal deterrent measures, lobbying efforts or administrative functions.
Many ranchers have asked Defenders to bring back their reimbursement program because Idaho is mismanaging the state’s, she said. She alleged that livestock killed by drought are being reimbursed through wolf depredation funding.
“If you are running a compensation program like we were, you have to make sure you are paying people who deserve it,” she said. “I don’t believe Idaho is doing that. … It is set up to fail and make people resent how it is being handled.”
Defenders’ reimbursement program was just a “window dressing” to help sell wolves, Alder said. When Defenders pulled that funding, they created a vacuum that could only be filled with animosity, he said.
“That funding from Defenders was really not genuine, it really was an appetizer,” he said. “The ranchers knew that and they didn’t really trust them.”
Angst among ranchers, compounded with frustrated hunters, spurred the creation of the wolf board, he said. The pro-wolf groups created their own problems in Idaho, Alder alleged.
“They are just a bunch of phonies — disingenuous at best,” he said.
Moreover, Alder said he thinks Defenders’ recent advertising will backfire on them because they are upsetting people.
“It is going to bite them,” he said.
Stone said she doesn’t buy that claim. Since the ads started running, Defenders has had no negative calls from ranchers, but plenty of praise from state and county officials, she said.
“We are telling the truth,” she said.
That truth, she said, is that livestock losses from wolves are not a significant impact on the industry and that prevention is a better strategy than retribution.
Non-lethal deterrents break the “cycle of loss” that occurs when wolves are gunned down after attacking unprotected livestock, creating a vacuum for new wolves to enter, she said.
Peavey said non-lethal methods are a lot of extra work for an “iffy at best” result. Twice, he had wolves sneak under wire fencing and kill half of his rams, he said. In response, Peavey this spring moved his range lambing operation 40 miles south of where it had been to the middle of the desert near Carey.
“It’s a good deal for me and it’s a good deal for the wolves, but they are still there,” he said.
Although he said he’d like to see Defender’s reimbursement program brought back, he said he learned to stop mourning the loss of money.
“You love the animals and you go to great lengths to make sure they’ve got all that they need to be productive and have a happy life,” he said. “… I just want to be a good shepherd, that’s all.”