bill heads to governor
Measure meant to prompt agency to lift federal protections
BOISE, Idaho - 3/14/02 _ Casting it as a bid to exert state sovereignty over endangered species, the House on Thursday gave final legislative approval to a compromise plan for managing wolf packs that are flourishing in Idaho.
A 58-9 vote completed action on the Senate-passed measure that supporters hope will prompt the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to begin the process of lifting federal protection for the predators.
"If we want to get these animals delisted and control our own destiny, this is about the only way we're going to do it," House Speaker Bruce Newcomb said.
Opponents, however, said adopting a state management plan was tantamount to acknowledging that 35 wolves transplanted from Canada to central Idaho in the mid-1990s, and many times that number of their descendants, are in the state for good.
"I certainly don't see it as a plus for state sovereignty when you have it forced on you," Republican Rep. Lenore Hardy Barrett of Challis said. "It's more an appeasement than anything else. I guess we've reached the point where the choice is either appease or oppose."
The carefully worded plan for establishing state control over wolves once they are removed from the endangered species list won the reluctant support of ranchers and environmentalists.
Idaho, Montana and Wyoming each must have state management plans acceptable to federal wildlife managers before wolves can be removed from federal protection. The plans give landowners and others an opportunity to limit the wolves' range and numbers while assuring they will not be eradicated again.
The key to agreement on the Idaho plan was requiring that wolves be managed at recovery levels -- considered a minimum of 15 breeding pairs in Idaho -- but that there still be enough breeding pairs and the packs that go with them to ensure a viable self-sustaining population.
The Fish and Wildlife Service has indicated it would begin the delisting process if there were at least 30 breeding pairs in the three-state region. That goal has been met. The central Idaho wilderness now is home to more than 260 wolves, but neither Montana nor Wyoming yet have state management plans.
Meanwhile, the Senate Resources and Environment Committee on Thursday endorsed a state management plan for grizzly bears in and around Yellowstone National Park. Like the wolf plan, the proposal is aimed at persuading federal authorities to take the carnivores off the endangered species list.
There are approximately 400 to 600 grizzly bears in the Yellowstone ecosystem, double or triple the population since they were granted federal protection in 1975. Final Senate action on the state management plan was expected today.
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