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Declare disaster area because of Wolves, Idaho County says

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HAMILTON – Idaho County, Idaho, commissioners have asked Gov. Butch Otter to declare the county a disaster area because of its large population of wolves.

The disaster declaration would allow federal trappers to eradicate wolves in the north-central Idaho county “by any means necessary” – if they threaten livestock, people or big-game populations.

That means, said Idaho County Commission chairman Skip Brandt, that wolves could be killed pretty much anywhere in the county, other than wilderness areas.

Brandt said the declaration was born of frustration from years of attempting to work through what he believes is a flawed process.

But Michael Leahy, Defenders of Wildlife Rocky Mountain Region director, called the declaration an overreaction.

“Most people in the Rocky Mountains live with wolves just fine,” Leahy said Monday. “I don’t know why it would be any different in Idaho County.”

Federal protection for wolves in Montana and Idaho was restored in August in a U.S. District Court decision by Judge Donald Molloy of Missoula.

Both states are challenging the judgment.

Idaho’s governor has said he’ll negotiate with the federal government until Oct. 7 on a plan to manage the estimated 850 wolves in his state.

Without a pact, Otter said Idaho will no longer be the designated agent for monitoring, law enforcement or wolf death investigations. Idaho has served in that role since 2005.


As a state senator in 2001, Brandt voted on a resolution to remove all wolves from the state.

In 2002, he joined with two other conservative senators to help steer the Idaho Wolf Management Plan to the governor’s desk to pave the way for delisting.

Brandt said his view of the process is jaded after working through the past eight years and the recent delisting decision.

“I’ve hit the wall,” Brandt said in a telephone interview Monday. “I don’t see any way that we will ever be able to manage those damned things. … It’s like we have a virus and we’re not permitted to take any antibiotics.”

Under the proposed declaration, the emergency would continue until Idaho took over management of wolves through a legislatively-approved state management plan that includes a policy of no tolerance of wolves around homes and ranches. Elk and moose populations would also have to be recovered to meet state guidelines.

As of Monday afternoon, Brandt had not heard anything from the governor’s office. And Otter’s press secretary did not return a phone call to the Ravalli Republic.


Brandt said he has heard a lot from other Idaho counties.

“We were the first one to jump late Thursday afternoon,” Brandt said. “By late Friday afternoon, we had 15 other counties contact us and ask for a copy of the declaration.”

Brandt said anyone interested in learning more can e-mail him at

Leahy said he understands that people who want the states to manage wolves are frustrated, but that’s why it is so important to get the science right in terms of delisting.

States are under “incredible pressure” to keep wolf populations close to minimum federal recovery goals of 30 breeding pairs and 300 wolves in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming, he said. “The reality is that nobody has really done the science of what constitutes a recovered pool of wolves in the Northern Rockies,” Leahy said.

The science is “pretty clear” that it is more than 300, he said.

“Overall, it’s unfortunate that some people get so upset about wolves,” he said. “All we’re talking about is how to conserve and manage a native species. At the end of the day, they are native wildlife and should be managed like any other native wildlife.”

There are about 1,700 wolves in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming. Wolves were reintroduced in the mid-1990s in Yellowstone National Park and the northern Rocky Mountains after being hunted nearly to extinction in the lower 48 states.

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