You can feel the frustration between the lines of Cal Groen’s short defense of the state wolf plan.
Groen, director of the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, has heard people from around the nation refer to the carefully written plan as a “blueprint for slaughter.” Wolf advocates have portrayed Idahoans as bloodthirsty killers, just waiting for permission to wipe out the invaders from the North.
Fish and Game managers like Groen can’t help but take this criticism personally. They have devoted their lives, their careers and their reputations on protecting and managing wildlife. So this month he wrote a column he including in the agency's press release packet this week.
“The Idaho Fish and Game wolf management plan aims to maintain the gray wolf’s place on the Idaho landscape,” Groen writes.
Fish and Game staff loved wildlife too much for the Idaho Legislature in 1995. The lawmakers suspected then that the agency was on the side of the federal government, not them, when the wolves were reintroduced. They thought Fish and Game biologists wanted wolves in Idaho.
They were right. I can’t think of many of the Fish and Game wildlife managers I knew back then that didn’t like wolves. So the Legislature banned the agency from managing wolves in the interim and the federal government gave that job to the Nez Perce Tribe.
Now Groen is trying to convince wolf lovers internationally that he and his department can be trusted to protect wolves.
“The plan is meant to manage wolves as other big game species are managed successfully in this state. One part of that success, once wolves are removed from the list of endangered species, will be to maintain Idaho’s control of the wolf population rather than allow it to fall to a point that places wolves back onto the federal list and under federal management.
“Fish and Game will apply the same professional wildlife management practices to wolves as those applied to elk, white-tailed deer, mule deer, moose, black bears, and mountain lions; all of which have recovered from critically low populations during the early 1900s.
“What we can do, and fully intend to do, is monitor wolf populations intensively through hard work and solid science. If our work shows that, for whatever reasons, wolf numbers appear to be sliding toward a precipice, action will be taken to stop that slide. The key is using science to adapt our management to actual conditions at ground level.”
Trust is the key issue in this debate and Groen is seeking that trust:
“The point of wolf management will be to stabilize numbers, not to cut wolves to an absolute minimum. In fact, the plan recognizes wilderness area packs as “core” populations and as “source” areas for surrounding regions.”
For Groen and his department managing wolves will be a balancing act. Today he seeks to ally the fears that his people, men and women who have devoted their lives to wildlife, are not planning to crop the wolf population back to the minimum to stay off the endangered species list.
But tomorrow he will have to convince Idaho lawmakers that the costs of killing more wolves is too high. In the end, I suspect money talks.