Here's a draft of our Sunday editorial on the wolf trapping controversy. I do have calls and emails in to Gov. Butch Otter's office, seeking comment.
Josh Bransford, Idaho’s best-known wolf trapper, has violated no state laws, according to the Department of Fish and Game.
But if that’s all Fish and Game will say for the record, it’s time someone fill in the blanks.
Bransford is the kind of trapper who gives his activity — and his state — a black eye.
His behavior isn’t sporting. It’s sickening. Idahoans will forever disagree about the wolf and its place in the state’s natural order, but all Idahoans should at least be able to speak with one voice against boneheaded barbarism.
Especially when it appears before our eyes.
When Bransford happened on a wolf in a leghold trap, standing in a circle of blood-tinged snow, he did not put his prey out of its misery. At least not before he posed for a photo — while he smiled in the foreground, the wounded wolf standing in the background.
The photo, posted temporarily on a trapping website, went viral on the Internet. And when it did, Fish and Game went on the defensive. The agency said Bransford had a permit and permission from the landowners and had taken a required class in wolf trapping. Posing for the photo, instead of killing a suffering animal, is a breach of protocol, but not a violation of the law.
So, according to the state, it’s legal.
But it’s also wrong.
The reason this grisly incident went viral — and the reason wolf advocates are using it to full advantage — is because it violates the basic standards of ethical, humane behavior. It is far enough beyond the pale, this one wolf killing, that it can galvanize outrage against all wolf hunting and trapping.
To be sure, the wolf advocates have a narrow agenda. They oppose a state management plan that allowed hunters to kill 252 wolves this winter, while trappers killed another 123. Bransford’s behavior makes it easier for the advocates to mobilize, to raise money, and to raise doubts about Idaho’s wolf management ethic.
We too are outraged by this incident, but we maintain, as we have for years, that the wolf is best managed by the state. We believe, even after this year’s hunts, that a wolf population of some 570 predators is sustainable.
But Idaho is often its own worst enemy.
Gov. Butch Otter, so far silent on the trapping controversy, made headlines earlier this year by joking about shipping wolves to neighboring Oregon.
State Sen. Jeff Siddoway, R-Terreton, floated a bill to allow ranchers to use live bait for wolf control. He tabled his bill only after the public relations damage was done.
Now, one trapper has blatantly disregarded what Idahoans embrace about the spirit of fair sport. Bransford’s actions reflect on a state that is trying to convince the outside world that it is a responsible steward of its wildlife. This may be unfair, but it is reality.
This is a time for reasonable Idahoans — and our leaders — to speak not just to the law, but to right and wrong. To what is acceptable, and to what is abhorrent.
The outside world is listening for what is said. And for what is left unsaid.