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Tribes, ranchers may suffer if Otter holds to threat of wolf management

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Nez Perce leader says Otter did not consult tribe before issuing ultimatum on wolves

Idaho’s ranchers and the Nez Perce tribe may be left to their own devices if Idaho holds to its governor’s promise of pulling out of wolf management.

After meeting with Interior Secretary Ken Salazar last week, Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter sent Salazar an ultimatum to vent his frustration with having to manage wolves under federal rules. He said Salazar should ignore a U.S. district court ruling putting wolves under federal protection and restore state management of wolves by Oct. 7. Otherwise, the state would refuse to fill the monitoring and investigation role it’s carried out since shortly after wolves were introduced.

“If we don’t reach an agreement within a reasonable time — we’ve set Oct. 7 as a deadline — the state will no longer participate as a designated agent for monitoring, providing law enforcement support or investigating wolf deaths in Idaho,” Otter said in a Sept. 8 press release.

On Friday, Idaho congressmen Mike Simpson and Walt Minnick also sent a letter to Salazar, asking him to immediately address allowing the states to manage wolf populations. Montana and Idaho managed their wolf populations for a year before a district court judge Donald Molloy ruled that endangered species cannot be managed on a state-by-state basis. Because wolves in Wyoming remained on the endangered species list, the court relisted all wolves.

The congressmen said state management of wolves is “not only warranted but necessary.”

“…should the Department find itself unable to meet the request of Governor Otter and should wolves remain protected under the Endangered Species Act, we will work with you to find a legislative remedy that allows the Department to delist wolves and turn over management to the State of Idaho,” wrote the congressmen. They also asked that the Department preserve traditional recreational uses on Lake Lowell.

Since setting the Oct. 7 date, the Otter camp has backpedaled. Otter’s chief counsel, David Hensley, told the Idaho Statesman that deadlines can be moved and it’s not really a line in the sand.

But should Otter hold firm, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service doesn’t yet know what would happen with wolf management, leading to some uncertainty for ranchers on who would investigate wolf kills or eliminate problem packs. David Potts of the USFWS Pacific region, which oversees Idaho, said the service would initially step in to manage the wolves and look into options of managing with other agencies or entities.

Idaho co-manages wolves with the Nez Perce tribe and tribal Vice Chairman Brooklyn Baptiste said the tribe is willing, if not ready, to step up. But being smaller than Idaho’s state government, the tribe has fewer resources so it would be a drain.

“The tribe would accept the role before having the federal government take over,” Baptiste said. “We could handle monitoring for a few months but then we’d have to work out some agreements.”

Baptiste, also the tribe’s natural resources subcommittee chair, said the tribe managed the wolves during their reintroduction in 1995 when Idaho first refused the role. He said the tribe has since worked in good faith with the state and played a large role in getting Idaho wolves delisted. So they were somewhat broadsided by Otter’s statement, Baptiste said.

“The tribe was never consulted,” Baptiste said. “This is a road block. We don’t usually like to get into the political realm but would hope the state would lessen its aggression and work with people.”

Baptiste said the USFWS was more than willing to work with the tribe in 1995, and the tribe wants to stay in the game, regardless of what the state does.

“If you’re part of the management, you have a say in what is happening,” Baptiste said.

Gubernatorial challenger Keith Allred said almost the same thing this week when he accused Otter of taking Idaho out of the game.

“As governor, I believe in expanding, not shrinking state sovereignty on the wolf issue and other issues,” Allred told the Idaho Statesman.

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