Idaho Officials Deny Montana Lawmaker’s Wolf Claim

By Beacon Staff

MISSOULA – Idaho officials are disputing a claim by Republican Rep. Denny Rehberg of Montana that Idaho won’t enforce federal protection of wolves.

The Missoulian reported that Rehberg on Thursday told a Safari Club International audience in Missoula that he likes what he describes as Idaho Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter’s plan to have state game wardens ignore requirements of the Endangered Species Act.

Rehberg also told the group that an Idaho game warden visiting a hunting camp told hunters that wolf regulations wouldn’t be enforced in the state.

Rehberg described the move as making Idaho a “sanctuary state” from federal protection concerning wolves.

But Otter spokesman Jon Hanian and Idaho Fish and Game spokesman Mike Keckler told the Missoulian that no such plan exists.

“Any talk about making Idaho a safe haven or declaring an open season — I don’t think that’s the case at all,” said Keckler.

A federal judge in August restored wolves across the Northern Rockies to the endangered species list following a lawsuit from environmentalists who argued Idaho and Montana wolves could not be under state control while Wyoming wolves remained under federal control.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has found Wyoming’s wolf plan so different and inadequate compared to Montana’s and Idaho’s, it kept Wyoming wolves under federal supervision while it gave the other two local wolf control.

But the federal judge agreed with wolf supporters that the Endangered Species Act doesn’t allow management of a free-ranging animal to be chopped up by state boundaries.

Since the ruling, Idaho and Montana officials have been pushing federal officials to allow a return of public wolf hunting in the two states.

Otter met with federal officials in Boise earlier this month, but it was unclear if Idaho’s proposal had been rejected. Hanian told the newspaper that a statement about the meeting was being prepared for next week about a possible agreement allowing state management of wolves.

“He (Otter) wanted to convey a sense of urgency,” Hanian said of the meeting with federal officials. “We’re having unacceptable impacts, and we’re at a point where we need to see some action.”

The number of wolves has skyrocketed since 66 wolves were brought from Canada to central Idaho and Yellowstone National Park. The population hit the original recovery benchmark of 300 animals a decade ago and at least 1,700 wolves now roam parts of six states.

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