Tuesday, September 2, 2014

The President's OP-ED


Gubernatorial Candidate Lacks Rural Perspective
By Idaho Farm Bureau President Frank Priestley
The Idaho Farm Bureau Federation does not endorse candidates for statewide offices. However, statements posted on Idaho Gubernatorial Candidate A.J. Balukoff’s website are reasons for rural voters to be concerned.
We believe Idaho voters should be aware of and informed about the candidate’s position on wolves, monument designations and several others. The following statement is one example:
“I think that was more about election-year politics than an attempt to create informed public policy. First of all, we don't need to spend $400,000 a year on another state board or bureaucracy to manage wolves—especially not when our state faces so many other critical needs, like public schools. That responsibility should fall within the state Department of Fish and Game, as does the management of all big game and other predators, like mountain lions, bears, and coyotes, in Idaho. Taking politically motivated steps that appear to threaten the viability of the wolf population solves no problem and creates two problems: first, it's the best way to encourage the federal government to step in and list the wolf as an endangered species again, removing state control; and second, it contributes to the negative "brand" our state government has been creating for Idaho among people across our country, nurturing the perception that we oppose conservation of a keystone species like the wolf.

If creation of a wolf control board qualifies as “election-year politics,” we’re not sure what wouldn’t qualify. In fact, the wolf control board was the product of a consensus reached by the livestock industry, legislators, Fish and Game biologists and experts from Wildlife Services, a federal agency charged with resolving wildlife interactions that threaten public health and safety, agricultural, property, and natural resources. The bill passed in the Idaho House by a vote of 49-16 and in the State Senate by a vote of 28-6. We would like to think that a competent gubernatorial candidate would know the difference between election year politics and actual problems.
The reason this money ($400,000) is needed to help manage wolves is because the federal government, (US Fish and Wildlife Service) pulled its wolf management money out of Idaho. Matching funds will be contributed by the livestock industry through increased brand renewal fees and by hunting and fishing license dollars. When the feds, who are responsible for reintroducing wolves in the first place, pulled their management funding, a large void was created. This isn’t a problem that the livestock industry should have to step in and solve. But in light of the fact that no one else was going to do it, hundreds of hardworking ranch families from across the state will make sacrifices to help manage a problem brought about by no fault of their own. We would like think that a competent gubernatorial candidate would know more about wolves in Idaho. 
The first thing we hope he can come to understand is that wolves are taking a toll on rural Idaho. Since 2009 wolves have killed about 400 cattle and 800 sheep in Idaho. Only about one in nine livestock depredations by wolves are actually confirmed. In other words, the numbers of confirmed kills are not a true reflection of actual wolf kills. Research conducted by the University of Montana has shown a correlation between wolf predation and lower weight gain in calves. Hunting outfitter businesses have suffered from lack of interest from out of state hunters due to wolves and declining elk herds. Hundreds of dogs and horses have also met an unfortunate fate due to the reintroduction of this predator. One dog was snatched out of a backyard near Troy when children played nearby. 
To us the wellbeing of rural Idaho families is more important than any negative “brand” that may or may not exist among people across the country with regard to how Idaho manages wolves. We would like to think that a competent gubernatorial candidate would care more about Idaho residents than the perceptions of people who live someplace else.
With regard to wolf conservation and sustaining a viable population in Idaho, no true stakeholder in this mess wants to see wolves back on the Endangered Species List and the federal red tape that would bring. Once again, we would expect a competent candidate to know this without playing into the hysteria and misinformation from animal rights extremists about Idaho seeking to exterminate wolves.
The wolf population in Idaho has grown far beyond expectations. The fact that wolf hunting success has increased every year since hunting began is a strong indicator that the population exceeds the official count. The fact that wolf populations in neighboring states continue to grow and expand their territories is further evidence that no one has a good handle on how many wolves we truly have in Idaho. It also disproves statements we hear about wolf populations reaching a plateau or declining. 
It’s shortsighted and unfortunate that Candidate Balukoff has chosen this topic as a platform for his campaign. We strongly encourage Idaho voters to study his positions on other wildlife, natural resources and agricultural topics before casting ballots this November.


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