The Senate approved the reappointment of an Idaho Fish and Game commissioner after a debate over the state’s policy for managing and killing wolves. Tony McDermott of Sagle will serve another four-year term on the commission.
Sen. Jeff Siddoway, R-Terreton, urged the Senate to vote against McDermott because the commission didn’t set a higher harvest target for the state’s first wolf hunt. “We’ve watched and watched as these wolves have decimated elk herds in part of the state,” Siddoway said. He said the situation is especially bad in the Lolo National Forest in central Idaho, near the Montana border. “The hunters are no longer able to hunt in those areas … The responsibility of the commissioner is to provide opportunities for the sportsmen of this state, and I submit to you that Tony McDermott has not lived up to that responsibility.”
McDermott fielded questions from Siddoway and other senators at a reappointment hearing Jan. 29. He said the wolf population is 2-3 times as large as it should be, and that steps will be taken to curb the population. “I think our commission is a little more open to opening the toolbox a little wider,” McDermott said. “I know that our hunters are fed up right to the eyeballs.”
Siddoway, a rancher, also said that the commission needs to do more to prevent wolf depredation of livestock, including letting ranchers kill entire packs of wolves after the wolves kill cows or sheep. Currently ranchers can only get authority to kill one or two wolves. “They just keep coming back, folks,” Siddoway said about wolves. “The department doesn’t get it. This is our opportunity to send a message that we’ve had it.”
McDermott told Siddoway in his confirmation hearing last month that he will go along with changes to depredation policy. “I can totally support commissioners in southern Idaho and the rest of Idaho on taking out entire wolf packs, given the number of wolves we have out there on the ground today.”
The reason that Idaho Fish and Game has been cautious in wolf depredation and hunting limits, McDermott said, was to ensure that the state maintains control over wolf management. A federal judge will issue a ruling in a few months that could potential put wolves back on the federal endangered species list. “If he puts those animals back on the list and does not give us a way out,” McDermott said, “then I think this commission’s going to be faced with a decision that may throw it right back in the hands of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services, and we’ll get out of the business of managing these animals.”
Siddoway said he had nothing personal against McDermott. Other senators spoke highly of McDermott before voting for his reappointment. “Mr. McDermott has worked tirelessly to support the sportsmen,” Sen. Joyce Broadsword, R-Sagle, said. “He is a good man. He has done a good job.” Sen. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint, said McDermott has a strategy for keeping wolf management in the hands of Idahoans that is working.