The Idaho Senate approved legislation allowing the governor to declare a disaster emergency due to its wolf population. Supporters say it adds another way for the state to control its wolves, while opponents say wolves aren't an emergency.
Sen. Monty Pearce, R-New Plymouth, said the emergency declaration could be an ace up Gov. Butch Otter's sleeve as he works with federal officials on wolves. He also said a declaration could allow Otter to declare open season on wolves.
“He has most of this power already now,” Pearce said about the governor. “What we're doing is giving him legislative support.”
An emergency declaration would empower the governor's Office of Species Conservation to work to prevent danger caused by wolves, including killing wolves. An emergency could be triggered by having more than 100 wolves in the state, well below the current estimate of at least 705 wolves in Idaho.
The Senate held the only public hearing the legislation is likely to get, and proponents held a rally on the Capitol steps that drew approximately 40 people, including five House Republicans.
During the Senate hearing, Idaho County Commissioner Skip Brandt said the state should follow the county, which has already declared a disaster. “Idaho has to take action,” Brandt said. “We can't wait any longer.”
At the rally, Ron Gillett of Stanley with the Idaho Anti-Wolf Coalition, called the wolves an animal of mass destruction. “The only way you can manage Canadian wolves in Idaho is to get rid of them.”
Karen Calisterio from Benewah County said she was recently trapped by four wolves in her driveway. “Until something is done about these wolves, I'm a prisoner in my own home,” she said. Calisterio said that she relives the event in her nightmares and that she hears wolves outside her house several nights a week.
The Senate panel heard from critics of the legislation. “There is no wolf emergency right now,” said Suzanne Stone with Defenders of Wildlife. Stone said there's no reported incidents of people being injured, and that other animals, including black bears, coyotes, mountain lions, dogs, and cattle have been more dangerous than wolves. She said the opposition to wolves is due to misinformation, which starts with childhood fairy tales.
Stone said the facts stated in the legislation, including that wolves are threatening Idaho's businesses and citizens and that they've made walking, berry picking and other activities less safe, aren't true. She also said the legislation won't burnish Idaho's image.
“It certainly sends a bad message around the world that Idaho can't be trusted and people put more faith in Little Red Riding Hood than science,” Stone told IdahoReporter.com.
The plan passed the Senate Resources and Environment Committee on a 7-2 vote, with Democrats in opposition. Sen. Elliot Werk, D-Boise, said the disaster declaration could set back Idaho's efforts to regain state management of wolves.
Werk also said part of the legislation allowing the Legislature to rescind the wolf emergency is unconstitutional. “We can't tell the governor what to do,” Werk said. He offered an opinion from the attorney general's office saying it could violate the doctrine of separation of powers between the legislative and executive branches. That opinion said it could be unconstitutional for the Legislature to void a disaster declaration without giving the governor a chance to veto the action.
Rep. Phil Hart, R-Athol, who supports the plan, says that part of the legislation is lifted from state laws currently on the books. Sen. Steve Bair, R-Blackfoot, said the existing law has yet to be challenged in court.
The Senate approved the plan on a 27-8 vote. Two Republican senators, Curt McKenzie of Nampa and Joe Stegner of Lewiston, opposed the plan because it could give the governor too much power. “I think this is a worthy goal we're trying to achieve, but I don't know if this is the right way to do it,” McKenzie said.
The legislation now heads to the governor's desk for his consideration.
Note: IdahoReporter.com is published by the Idaho Freedom Foundation, which helped write the legislation.
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- Ron Gillett speaks during a rally on wolves at the Capitol, Ron Gillett speaks during a rally on wolves at the Capitol