Fire When Ready 

Otter's anti-wolf rhetoric grabs headlines, muddies debate

Never mind the State of the State. Shut down Capitol reconstruction all you want. But for the foreseeable future, Gov. Butch Otter will have to work pretty hard to top the media splash he made last week by saying he was ready to blast away at a wolf.

"I'm prepared to bid for the first ticket to shoot a wolf myself," Otter declared to a herd of hunters gathered on the Statehouse steps.

News of the millionaire-turned-rancher-turned-governor's declaration found its way quickly onto national and international news wires.

By last weekend, after the story circulated through outlets ranging from ESPN, The Arizona Republic and the Ottawa Citizen in Ontario, Canada (Headline: "Governor Itching to Kill Wolves"), the story made it onto National Public Radio's "Weekend Edition." They said Otter was "on the warpath."

Otter, of course, has opposed wolf reintroduction for years, so to many in the audience, his bravado wasn't new.

Around the Capitol, Otter's spokesman Jon Hanian, a former television reporter, was using a line he has resorted to often: "Otter," Hannian said, "is his own guy."

But shortly after he uttered the now-famous words, an anonymous staffer with the Idaho Department of Fish and Game moaned and told the Spokane, Wash. Spokesman-Review, "I wish he wouldn't have said that."

Certainly Otter didn't gain many friends in conservation circles. Although some groups have quietly said that wolves do need to be managed like any other wild animal within the state's borders, Otter's hot rhetoric belies a complicated matter that even sportsmen are still debating over.

"Wolves unchecked in Idaho for over a decade are causing problems for our big game herds and destroying livestock," said Scott Allan, the Idaho president of Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife, the group that organized last week's rally. Their main premise, disputed by numerous biologists and wildlife preservation groups, is that wolves are causing a decline in the number of elk taken by hunters.

Many hunters hope to see Idaho's 600-some wolves removed from the Endangered Species List, and Kevin Brown is one of them. But the senior regional director for the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation isn't ready to jump on the wolf shooting bandwagon.

"It's in our nature to say, 'We want to narrow it down to one thing,'" Brown said in an interview with BW. "It's really hard to do that. You had an already declining elk population before the wolves were reintroduced."

Instead, Brown said, his group, which has more than 150,000 members, focuses on improving elk habitat.

"We're not going to focus on eliminating wolves," Brown said. "Given adequate habitat, there should be room for healthy wolf populations and healthy elk populations."

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