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Wolf Concerns Aired

The Idaho Fish and Game Commission got an earful on the wolf issue during the public comment period of its meeting Wednesday evening July 23 in Post Falls.

Many people expressed their concern to commissioners that wolves in Idaho were returned to endangered species protection by the federal district court in Montana on July 18. People attending the open public meeting expressed concerns about the effects of wolf predation on game species and the loss of hunting dogs - some accused Fish and Game of lying about hunting seasons.

The federal court injunction issued July 18 put Idaho's planned wolf hunting season on hold and returned management authority to the federal government under the 10(j) section of the Endangered Species Act. The federal rules still allow livestock and property owners to protect their private property from attacking wolves under some circumstances.

Meanwhile, Idaho state officials are considering the state's legal options. Commissioners met in a closed session with attorneys to discuss those options.

The injunction elicited passionate responses, but it is not a final determination, deputy attorney general Clive Strong told commissioners following the closed session. Strong is the chief of the natural resource division of the attorney general's office.

"This is not the end of the road," Strong said. The injunction means only that the judge thinks the plaintiff is likely to prevail at trial. But it's premature to conclude that the injunction predicts the final outcome.

State and federal officials will have an opportunity to present to the court the adequacy of delisting and wolf management plans.

The court's injunction put the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's delisting on hold until a full hearing on the merits of the case. But the judge found Idaho's wolf management plan adequate, and he noted that Idaho Fish and Game has demonstrated the ability to manage wolves.

The judge wrote in his ruling that the Fish and Wildlife Service had not adequately demonstrated that wolves from the Yellowstone National Park were interbreeding with wolves from other parts of the Northern Rocky Mountain population. Such interbreeding is one of the Fish and Wildlife Service's criteria for delisting.

The judge wants a clear explanation from the Fish and Wildlife Service, Strong told commissioners. The judge also ruled Wyoming's wolf management plan inadequate.

Several options are available to Idaho, but they are not ready for public discussion, Strong said. Officials will determine the best course to pursue. But it is important not to abandon course, he said. The Endangered Species Act is federal law and trumps state law.

"We're going to have to operate within the confines of the law," Strong said.

Information about wolf management, the court injunction and the federal rules governing wolf depredation are available on the Fish and Game Website at: http://fishandgame.idaho.gov/cms/wildlife/wolves/.