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A Modest Proposal

One solution to Idaho's wolf problem


Next spring, Idaho Fish and Game will continue its program to remove wolf pups from dens, equip them with radio collars and replace them in their homes. IDFG says this will enable them to track wolf movements throughout the life cycle of the pups and give them valuable information on a vexing problem that has preoccupied Idaho state government.

Wolf advocates however, suspect IDFG has other, clandestine motives. They assume radio-collaring pups will enable agents to more easily track and find wolves in order to kill enough of them to drive down Idaho's wolf population, close to the minimum legal number of 100 wolves allowed by their agreement with the United States Fish and Wildlife Service. Keeping tabs on wolf numbers through use of these collars can facilitate IDFG's ability to do this without inadvertently dropping the wolf population below that number, which is something Idaho officials want to avoid at all costs, as it would trigger a mandated review by USFWS and possible relisting of these animals as an endangered species—again putting them under federal control.

Some people consider this conclusion to be paranoid. I suggest, however, that not only could the present program be continued, it might be expanded to provide a solution to Idaho's perceived problems with wolves.

The lowering of the Idaho wolf population to a relict, unimportant and almost invisible number of animals could be accomplished by equipping wolf pups, with permanent radio collars (expandable so as not to choke them to death as they grow). These collars would be furnished with remote scent detectors and strychnine self-injection devices, which could be adjusted in such a manner that if wolves were to approach domestic livestock within a certain distance, (let us say 50 feet), the strychnine injector could be automatically triggered to deliver a lethal dose to the wolf that would kill it within seconds. Thus these devices could prevent any possibility of wolves killing animals that ranchers value.

One of the problems with present wolf management in Idaho is there is no sure way to know which of the many wolves that are now being killed in retaliation for livestock deaths are actually responsible for them or just happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Equipping wolf collars in the foregoing manner would make it virtually certain that only wolves likely to predate livestock would be killed—not in retribution for prior deaths, but in a preventive way. Such methodology would not only be more efficient than sending agents out with rifles or traps, or shooting the wolves from aircraft, but it is less likely IDFG would be accused of unethical behavior toward these animals. It would "make the punishment fit the crime."

Alteration of such scent detectors might also make it possible for them to be used to prevent the killing of elk that hunters most value, such as bulls with big racks. This could be done if bulls are found to have a distinct odor.

Anti-wolf people say wolves are impacting Idaho's wildlife. Elk scent detectors in these collars could perhaps be turned on and off from a distance in certain areas so that only wolves residing in or occasionally wandering through places where hunters' success rates were below the historical 21 percent would be targeted. The CIA is now routinely doing long-distance killing with radio-directed drones. Perhaps Idaho officials can persuade the federal government to share this technology with them for such a crucial task.

These devices could be activated on wolves found in the Lolo National Forest where hunters have long claimed they have reduced the elk there, despite the fact that in some areas where wolf numbers are high, elk populations have actually increased. Doing this would enable IDFG to definitively show for the first time that such wolf killing was justified, in their eyes at least, because it had a beneficial effect on elk populations.

There are other situations in which these collars might prove valuable. Despite wolves having never killed a single sheep or cow in the Idaho panhandle, they have been targeted there for elimination. There was no official limit placed on wolf killing in the panhandle during the 2013-2014 hunting season. This resulted in the killing of 85 wolves. There will not be a limit this coming year, either. With sufficient technological advances, cattle and sheep sensors could be used in southern Idaho, but remotely turned off in the panhandle. Doing so might persuade the rest of the country that Idahoans are not the bloodthirsty psychotics many believe us to be.

Though the program is not likely to be cost-effective, the past few years' experience has shown this is not a major concern of the Idaho Legislature and Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter. The Wolf Depredation Control Board was appropriated an initial budget of $500,000, passed by both chambers of the Legislature with almost the unanimous vote of Republican legislators.

The Depredation Board reported it had recently cost them $43,000 to kill 31 wolves. That is a cost of $4,600 per wolf. That this was accomplished despite the Idaho government's present shortfall in educational funds for the state, clearly shows where the priorities of our state legislators lie.