Politics and Wildlife

Take a good look at this wolf. It is going to get very hard to see a wolf in Idaho due to new legislation.

I barely had a year and a half under my belt as an employee of Idaho Department of Fish and Game when the Department celebrated its 50-year anniversary. In 1938, the citizens of Idaho overwhelmingly voted for the creation of a wildlife agency staffed with professional biologists and working under the guidance of a citizen committee that became known as, “The Commission”. This was to get out from under a system of political cronyism where appointments were made based on who a person knew and not professional qualifications. In short, it was to get politics out of wildlife management.

Twenty-five years later, I was still proudly employed by the Department when we commemorated the 75th anniversary. However, after Governor Little signed a bill several weeks ago that removes almost all constraints on wolf hunting in an effort to reduce wolf numbers in Idaho by 90 percent, there is far less to celebrate after 83 years.

As a recap, the new law, well supported by some Idaho hunters, the Idaho Cattle Association and Senate and House lawmakers, removes virtually all rules for ethical hunting, allowing hunting and trapping during all seasons, night shooting, aerial gunning, vehicular chase, no bag or daily limits and use of professional hunters and trappers. There are no holds barred in this assault on ethics and decency. Would we ever allow any of this for any other big game animal?

The goal is to reduce wolf populations down to the bare minimum that will still keep the Federal government from re-asserting control of wolf management—a dangerous game. Dangerous because two very different things can happen. First, the new legislation could be wildly successful and with no control on harvest, could quickly overshoot the magic number, triggering perhaps permanent federal intervention. On the flip side, wolves may prove harder to control, despite the ghastly methods now legalized, and the control effort could stimulate, not suppress, wolf production. This often happens with coyote control measures so it is a reasonable assumption here.

Part of the issue is that wolves eat elk, thus competing with hunters. Yet, elk hunters complained about elk numbers long before wolves were introduced. Ask an elk hunter how many elk there should be and, no matter how well the population is doing, the answer will be, “more”. Idaho has an estimated 120,000 elk and provides elk hunting opportunity other states can only dream of. Elk harvest averaged 19,759 elk annually from 2010-2019 with the last five of those years sustaining a harvest of over 20,000 annually, leading to the question, where is the problem?

Most elk zones are at or above population objectives established in the latest elk plan. There are several zones where wolves are the principal cause of mortality to a herd and are even suppressing the herd. But that isn’t everywhere and doesn’t justify such sweeping and unethical changes. The units in question are remote and difficult to access and reducing wolf numbers there will be much harder than in more open zones such as Island Park.

I served my first four years as a Conservation Officer in one of the elk zones in controversy and it was in trouble 30 years ago, not due to wolves, but to landscape changes to habitat. Wolves may be exacerbating the problem, but they are not the cause and fewer wolves won’t fix it.

That wolf populations are stable at around 1,500 animals is actually a good thing. A typical animal population curve sees the population overshoot carrying capacity, collapse and then recover to a stable state lower than the peak previously experienced. Reducing the population significantly may set up a scenario where the wolf population can surge beyond carrying capacity once again.

However, this really isn’t about wolves. It is about politics taking over wildlife management. When politicians make the decisions instead of professionals, watch out. We’ve seen this on the federal level where western lawmakers have sought to have grizzly bears and wolves removed legislatively from protection under the Endangered Species Act. During the Trump administration, greater sage-grouse habitat protections agreed to under the 2015 Greater Sage-Grouse Plan were rescinded. What is next?

Idaho sportsmen and wildlife enthusiasts would do well to remember that not all wolves walk on four legs. With this foot in the door, this won’t be the last time state politicians and other influencers circumvent biology. Any wildlife that interferes with someone’s idea of making a living or recreation had better watch out—it may get legislated out of existence.

The Idaho Department of Fish and Game was established to eliminate exactly this kind of political meddling. I hope we can regain our senses and allow the Department to do its job without having to watch over its collective shoulder to see if what they propose is politically correct.

Help Idaho Wildlife

When we traveled across the state in October 2017, most of the vehicles we saw using the wildlife management areas did not have wildlife plates. Buying wildlife plates is a great way for non-hunters and hunters alike to support wildlife-based recreation like birding.

C'mon folks, let's help Idaho's wildlife by proudly buying and displaying a wildlife license plate on each of our vehicles! 

See below for information on Idaho plates. Most states have wildlife plates so if you live outside Idaho, check with your state's wildlife department or vehicle licensing division for availability of state wildlife plates where you live. 

And tell them that you heard about it from Nature-track.com!

Wildlife License Plates

Idaho Wildlife license plates provide essential funding that benefits the great diversity of native plants and wildlife that are not hunted, fished or trapped—over 10,000 species or 98% of Idaho’s species diversity. Game species that share the same habitats (such as elk, deer, antelope, sage-grouse, salmon, trout) also benefit from these specialty plates.

No state tax dollars are provided for wildlife diversity, conservation education and recreation programs. Neither are any revenues from the sale of hunting or fishing licenses spent on nongame species. Instead, these species depend on direct donations, federal grants, fundraising initiatives—and the Idaho Wildlife license plates.

Both my vehicles have Bluebird Plates. I prefer the bluebird because the nongame program gets 70 percent of the money from bluebird plates, but only 60 percent of the money from elk and trout plates - 10 percent of the money from elk plates supports wildlife disease monitoring and testing programs (to benefit the livestock industry) and 10 percent from cutthroat plates supports non-motorized boat access.

Incidentally, in 2014, the Idaho Legislature denied the Department of Fish and Game the ability to add new plates or even to change the name of the elk and cutthroat plates (very specific) to wildlife and fish plates, a move that would have allowed for changing images occasionally and generating more revenue. It would seem that they believe that we Idahoans don't want a well funded wildlife program.

I think it is time we let the Legislature know that Idahoan support wildlife funding and that we would like to see these generic plates come to fruition.

"WOW. What a phenomenal piece you wrote. You are amazing." Jennifer Jackson

That is embarrassing, but actually a fairly typical response to my nature essays. Since The Best of Nature is created from the very best of 16 years of these nature essays published weekly in the Idaho Falls Post Register (online readership 70,000), it is a fine read. It covers a wide variety of topics including humorous glimpses of nature, philosophy, natural history, and conservation. Readers praise the style, breadth of subject matter and my ability to communicate complex and emotional topics in a relaxed and understandable manner.

Everyone can find something to love in this book. From teenagers to octogenarians, from the coffee shop to the school room, these nature essays are widely read and enjoyed.

Some of the essays here are my personal favorites, others seemed to strike a chord with readers. Most have an important message or lesson that will resonate with you. They are written with a goal to simultaneously entertain and educate about the wonderful workings of nature. Some will make you laugh out loud and others will bring a tear to the eye and warm your heart.

Readers Write:

"You hit a home run with your article on, Big Questions in Nature. It should be required reading for everyone who has lost touch with nature...great job!" Joe Chapman

"We enjoyed your column, Bloom Where Planted. Some of the best writing yet. The Post Register is fortunate to have your weekly columns." Lou Griffin.

To read more and to order a copy, click here or get the Kindle version 


Copies are also available at:

Post Register

Island Park Builders Supply (upstairs)

Barnes and Noble in Idaho Falls

Harriman State Park, Island Park

Museum of Idaho

Valley Books, Jackson Wyoming

Avocet Corner Bookstore, Bear River National Wildlife Refuge, Brigham City, Utah

Craters of the Moon National Monument Bookstore, Arco, Idaho