Idaho wants permission to kill, delist wolves

LEWISTON, Idaho -- The Idaho Department of Fish and Game will ask the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for permission to kill wolves in northern Idaho to protect deer and elk herds.

Fish and Game Director Cal Groen said the federal agency can grant that permission if state or tribal wildlife agencies prove wolves are why elk and deer are not meeting population objectives set by wildlife managers.

He said the agency is concerned about the Upper Clearwater River Basin.

"We can demonstrate wolves are significantly impacting elk in the Lolo Zone," he told the Lewiston Tribune.

Fred Trevey, an Idaho Fish and Game commissioner from Lewiston, said the request is a contingency plan in case federal protections remain for wolves.

Among many regulatory changes the Bush administration pushed through in its final days was a decision to drop gray wolves in the Great Lakes and Northern Rocky Mountains from the endangered list.

President Barack Obama ordered a review of those 11th-hour measures after taking office Tuesday. The rule never formally took effect.

While the state plans to ask for permission to kill wolves while they are federally protected, officials are also working to have wolves removed from the endangered species list.

"The Obama administration is entitled to that review," said Brad Hoaglun, a spokesman for Sen. Jim Risch, R-Idaho. "When the appropriate amount of time has gone by and they have had time to review the rule, Sen. Risch will probably talk with (Interior) Secretary (Ken) Salazar and make sure they understand what is going on in Idaho and how prepared we are to manage wolves."

About 1,500 wolves are in the Northern Rockies, which includes Montana, Idaho and Wyoming, the eastern one-third of Washington and Oregon, and a small part of north-central Utah.

"We pledge to work with the delegation and governor to show the administration why this should be one of the first things allowed to proceed," said John Foster, a spokesman for Rep. Walt Minnick, D-Idaho.

David Hensley, counsel to Idaho Gov. C.L "Butch" Otter, said the state has already started working with other Western states to get wolves delisted.

He said the state hopes to produce a letter from governors in the West to the new administration "to explain the importance of this issue and why we feel delisting is appropriate."

Said Groen, "We will be sending a letter encouraging Secretary of Interior Salazar to move forward with delisting because we are well past recovery levels, and we have approved wolf management plans in place and professional staff to do it."