Federal predator-killing agency faces new attacks

A coalition of environmental groups is taking on another one of the federal programs that helps ranchers who run their livestock on public lands across the West.

They want to dramatically reduce or kill all funding for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services agency. The agency moves and kills mostly predators that eat cattle, sheep and other livestock using traps, aerial shooting and sometimes even poison.

The agency spends more than $100 million annually and kills about 1.6 million animals a year. For opponents of ranching on public lands and wildlife protection groups it’s a low-hanging fruit.

Weak dollar offers window for Idaho to build film industry

The timing of a House Committee vote to set up an incentive program that would offer filmmakers a 20 percent rebate on production costs couldn’t come at a better time for those seeking to build a film industry in the state.

The weak dollar coming on the tail of the writers strike has decimated the Canadian film industry. British Columbia, our neighbor to the north, has a $1.3 billion film industry that directly and indirectly employs 30,000 Canadians. The bankers who now make most of the major decisions about films and television series now look first to the bottom line and suddenly the United States is looking better again.

"Ghost dancers" kill private land conservation bill for now

Three House Republican leaders, Rep. Mike Moyle of Star, Ken Roberts of Donnelly and Scott Bedke of Oakley, all farmers and ranchers, effectively killed a bill that would have provided tax breaks to landowners who protected their land with easements for 30 years to perpetuity.

They led the effort in committee to send the bill to amending order to limit the easements from five to 50 years, too short to be of public value, development opponents say. The move was targeted to break the wide coalition of supporters that stretched from the Idaho Cattle Association and the Idaho Farm Bureau to the Nature Conservancy and the Idaho Conservation League.

Farmer, fish advocate proposes new water project for Snake River

A new water storage proposal for Idaho is coming from a surprising direction.

Matt Yost, a former associate with Idaho Rivers United and former executive director of Idaho Steelhead and Salmon Unlimited is proposing raising the Swan Falls Dam on the Snake River south of Kuna 50 feet. Yost, currently the executive director of the Snake River Farmers Association is carrying forward the idea his uncle, the late George Grant first dreamed up.

“In a nutshell, the idea is to create more storage in Idaho in an area that that solves more of Idaho’s water problems than the other currently suggested water storage projects create,” Yost said.

Monument designation hangs over Crapo's Owyhee initiative

The clock is ticking on Sen. Mike Crapo’s Owyhee Canyonlands bill.

He’s been working with Senate Democrats to rewrite the bill to meet their concerns while preserving the balanced effort to protect wilderness and wild rivers, and help ranchers in Owyhee County. It won’t look like the compromises worked out between ranchers, Owyhee County officials and the Shoshone-Paiute tribes announced with fanfare more than three years ago.

But Crapo and the Owyhee County Initiative panel that have crafted and carried forward the package are seeking to get a bill before 2008, when a new administration takes over the White House. The initiative began, you might remember, when President Bill Clinton announced that he thought the Owyhees qualified as a national monument in 2001.

The bar rises for wolf numbers and lawsuit success

When wolves were reintroduced to Idaho and Yellowstone in 1995, then rancher, and now senator Brad Little of Emmett, predicted that environmentalists who were then saying 300 wolves was a reasonable recovery goal would want it raised by the time the goal was met.

Neither I nor Little thought at the time the Northern Rockies would reach that point for years to come (the recovery goal was met in 2002). But we didn’t know just how good Idaho would turn out to be as habitat for wolves. With a population at least at 740 and perhaps higher than 800, Idaho has more than half of all of the wolves in the region today.

Wolf battle heats up in the next few weeks

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s target date for issuing its decision on removing wolves from the protection of the Endangered Species Act in the Northern Rockies is Feb. 28.

If they meet that date, then 30 days later, wolves would be delisted in Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, eastern Washington, eastern Oregon and northern Utah. The states would take over management and the federal government would step aside and monitor the process for the next five years.

However, environmental and animal rights groups are expected to file a lawsuit quickly, hoping to get an injunction that prevents the final action before March 28. The environmental lawyers group, Earthjustice will represent seven environmental groups including Defenders of Wildlife, the Sierra Club, the Natural Resources Defense Council the Humane Society, the Center for Biological Diversity, the Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance and Help Our Wolves Live.

Forest Service budget remains weighted toward firefighting

The Bush administration’s proposal to cut the Forest Service’s budget from $4.5 billion to $4.1 billion has prompted a familiar cry from Congress warning of the consequences of the cuts on the 193 million acres of national forests that are so critical to our lives in the West.

The Bush Administration is seeking in its last budget to demonstrate the fiscal conservatism its critics say was absent in the past. It has taken the knife to a agency that had lost its budget footing ever since the timber sales in the Pacific Northwest that were propping it up in the 1980s were all but eliminated.

Will Idaho keep growing?

Since I moved to Idaho in 1985 the state, especially the Treasure Valley, has been on a constant growth trend. So when will it end?

In Idaho Falls the Idaho National Laboratory peaked in the early 1990s with employment higher than 13,000 people. By 2000 it was cut by almost half.

Yet Idaho Falls kept growing and grows today.

When the tech bust and 911 sunk the economy in 2001, the Treasure Valley’s growth actually accelerated in part because of the building boom. Even now that the real estate boom has faltered new people keep coming and the number of renters versus homeowners is rising.

Bighorn sheep strategy won't resolve bitter controversy

The Fish and Game Commission’s decision to continue its policy to move or kill bighorn sheep that have contact with domestic sheep has drawn ire from its main constituency, sportsmen and the Nez Perce tribe, and environmentalists.

But with the strong support of the Idaho Woolgrowers, the commission’s approval of an interim strategy for separating bighorn sheep from domestic sheep, ends an immediate crisis over management of the wild sheep that are one of the state’s most valuable wild assets. The Woolgrowers had threatened to go to the Legislature with a bill to resolve the issue themselves, which Fish and Game officials thought might include taking away some of their authority over bighorns. Even though the idea appears ridiculous on its face, it was only a little over a decade ago when lawmakers did just that with bison, which occasionally wander out of Yellowstone Park in Idaho.

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