Otter's wolf plan funding reduced

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BOISE - State budget writers took Idaho Gov. Butch Otter's $2 million wolf control plan to the bargain basement Tuesday, slashing the price tag by $1.6 million.

In the morning, the joint budget committee approved a $400,000 trailer bill with a one-time appropriation to set up a fund for what's being called the Idaho Wolf Depredation Control Board under the supervision of Otter's administration.

Tuesday afternoon, the full Senate approved 28-6 the Senate-amended House Bill 470 that would establish the wolf depredation control board - aimed at controlling wolves that prey on domestic livestock and wildlife such as elk.

The governor had recommended funding of $2 million upfront for the proposed new board.

Rep. Shirley Ringo, D-Moscow, was one of three Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee members to vote against the $400,000 for the new board approved 17-3 by JFAC.

"The long-term plan expected the $2 million, so I just wasn't ready to take the first step on that," Ringo said. "But, I believe that we have ways of managing that would be much more streamlined, possibly less costly, and so I'm just not comfortable embarking on it."

While Sen. Dan Johnson, R-Lewiston, and Rep. Phylis King, D-Boise, also voted against the $400,000 appropriation, the rest of the North Idaho JFAC delegation - including Finance vice-chair Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint - voted in favor of it.

HB470 would establish the board for five years. The trailer legislation, if it becomes law, would fund it at $400,000 for the first year - starting July 1.

But without the $2 million lump sum appropriation that Otter wanted upfront, a $400,000 annual appropriation would need to be requested each year from the Legislature, JFAC co-chair Sen. Dean Cameron said. Cameron acknowledged that future Legislatures can't be obligated past the one-year $400,000 in funding for the board.

"The $2 million was a recommendation from the governor for five years," noted Cameron, a Rupert Republican. "So, we'll end up spending the $2 million over five years - if everything works, accordingly. But at least for now, we felt that $400,000 was the appropriate first step."

How would Cameron describe the fiscal move?

"Cautious would be an OK word," Cameron said. "Given the circumstances we had with the budget, I think it's the approach we decided to take."

During the Senate floor debate on HB470 Tuesday afternoon, Sen. Bert Brackett, R-Rogerson, disputed arguments from opponents of the proposed new wolf depredation control board who say the legislation is intended to simply exterminate wolves in Idaho.

"It's not the 'Random kill the wolves bill,'" Brackett contended.

Other means could be used to keep wolves away from livestock and wildlife, he said.

"Non-lethal control can be used on the (Idaho Department of) Fish and Game money, so it is a component - non-lethal control can be a component of the depredation control," said Brackett, the Senate floor sponsor of HB470.

Senate Minority Leader Michelle Stennett, however, maintained that while non-lethal means of killing wolves "have proven effective and should be considered as a tool," the legislation remained unclear as to whether it could be used.

Stennett said HB470 convolutes matters.

"I find this bill too complicated," said Stennett, D-Ketchum. "It could have been much simpler housed in an existing board."

Said Stennett: "The state of Idaho has already created an Animal Damage Control Board. This board already has the authority to receive and disperse funds, for the purpose of controlling predatory animals."

Stennett and five other Senate Democrats, including Sen. Dan Schmidt, D-Moscow, voted against HB470.

The House would be required to now concur with the Senate-amended version of the legislation before it's sent to Otter's desk.

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