Update (May 7): Republican Governor Brad Little signed bill SB1211 into law today, according to National Geographic.
Acontentious bill in Idaho, aimed at reducing the state’s wolf population by more than 90 percent, will soon land on the desk of the governor. Proponents of the bill say its passing will stop wolves from harassing and killing wildlife and livestock, while opponents counter that it goes too far and fails to consider the ecological consequences of removing so many large predators.
On April 21, the Idaho Senate approved the bill in a 26–7 vote. A week later, the Idaho House of Representatives voted 58–11 to send the bill on to Republican Governor Brad Little.
“These wolves, there’s too many in the state of Idaho,” rancher and State Senator Mark Harris (R-Soda Springs) said on the Senate floor before last week’s vote, as reported by The New York Times. “They’re destroying ranchers; they’re destroying wildlife.”
Wolves have long been a flashpoint between ranchers and environmentalists in the state. In 2009, wolves were removed from federal protection, and in January 2021, former President Donald Trump rescinded other protections placed on wolves by the Endangered Species Act. Conservation groups quickly sued the federal government, The Guardian reports, but such lawsuits remain pending.
Proponents of the bill argue that wolves not only kill wildlife and livestock, but also harass cattle, making them less valuable when they arrive at market. The economic toll, the Associated Press reports, can add up to hundreds of thousands of dollars each year.
The bill in Idaho would allow the state to hire independent contractors to hunt wolves by increasing the amount of money the state’s Department of Fish and Game sends to the Idaho Wolf Depredation Control Board, an agency established in 2014 to manage state money put towards killing wolves. The board will receive an extra $190,000 to hire contractors on top of its existing $400,000 budget, according to the Times.
The legislation also stipulates the tools and methods hunters may use to track and kill wolves. In addition to baiting, the bill allows for the use of electronic calls, spotlights, and night vision equipment, and hunters are permitted to hunt from snowmobiles and other all-terrain vehicles. If enacted, the law would remove a previous cap on the number of animals a single hunter can kill and end trapping season limits on private land, giving ranchers and government agencies greater flexibility to kill wolves deemed threatening to livestock.
“It doesn’t go as far as a lot of us would like it to go, but it’s a step in the right direction,” House Majority Leader Mike Moyle (R-Star) tells The Idaho Statesman.
Opponents point to the potential ecological fallout of the legislation. Wolves kill wildlife, but their selective culling of old and sick individuals can lead to more robust elk herds, according to National Geographic. With respect to cattle, wolves claim fewer than 200 animals each year out of the more than 2.5 million cows in Idaho, Garrick Dutcher, the research and program director for Living With Wolves, tells The Guardian. “Every year, we lose far more to coyotes, to bad weather, to birth complications, and disease—orders of magnitude more.”
Dutcher also says the bill also sets a dangerous precedent around who should regulate wild animals, shifting that power into the hands of legislatures and away from wildlife biologists at the Idaho Fish and Game Commission, who understand complex ecological relationships and opposed the measure. “Should the legislature set this precedent, they could wrestle away authority from the fish and game commission for other species as well,” he says.
Maggie Howell, the executive director of the Wolf Conservation Center, writes to the Times in an email that such decisions could ultimately influence national laws. “Beyond the wanton cruelty and devastation the passage of this bill would bring to wolves, this legislation poses a threat to wolves nationwide,” she says. “With the Trump administration’s decision to transfer wolf management authority from the federal government to the states, Idaho’s policies can influence expectations about wildlife management beyond its borders.”