BOISE, Idaho (AP) -- The Idaho House on Tuesday approved legislation allowing the state to hire private contractors and expand methods to kill wolves roaming Idaho -- a measure that could cut the wolf population by 90%.
Lawmakers voted 58-11 to send the agriculture industry-backed bill to Republican Gov. Brad Little. The fast-tracked bill that allows the use of night-vision equipment to kill wolves as well as hunting from snowmobiles and all-terrain vehicles, among other measures, passed the Senate last week.
Backers said changes to Idaho law could help reduce the wolf population from about 1,500 to 150, alleviating wolf attacks on cattle, sheep and wildlife.
"We have areas of the state where the wolves are having a real detrimental impact on our wildlife," said House Majority Leader Mike Moyle, one of the bill's sponsors. "They are hurting the herds, elk and deer. This allows the Wolf (Depredation) Control Board and others to control them, also, which we have not done in the past."
Cattle and sheep ranchers say wolves have cost them hundreds of thousands of dollars by killing animals or harassing them, causing them to lose weight, making them less valuable when they are sold.
Opponents said the legislation threatens a 2002 wolf management plan involving the federal government that could ultimately lead to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service taking back control of managing the state's wolves.
Environmental groups blasted the House's approval of the measure and called on Republican Gov. Brad Little to veto the legislation.
"The bill will waste millions of dollars of public funds on killing wolves, and threatens to ultimately return the species to the endangered species list and federal management," the Western Watersheds Project and about a dozen other environmental groups said in a statement.
A primary change in the new law is the hiring of private contractors to kill wolves. The legislation includes increasing the amount of money the Idaho Department of Fish and Game sends to the Idaho Wolf Depredation Control board from $110,000 to $300,000. The board, created in 2014, is an agency within the governor's office that manages state money it receives to kill wolves.
The Idaho Department of Fish and Game reported in February that the wolf population has been holding at about 1,500 the past two years. The numbers were derived by using remote cameras and other methods.
About 500 wolves have been killed in the state in each of the last two years by hunters, trappers and wolf-control measures carried out by state and federal authorities.
Idaho's 2002 wolf conservation and management plan calls for at least 150 wolves and 15 packs in Idaho. Backers have said the state is allowed to increase the killing of wolves to reach that level. If the wolf population falls below 150, the killing of wolves would have to be reduced.
Also according to the plan, if Idaho's wolf population fell to 100, there's a possibility the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service could resume management of its wolf population. The 2002 document says wolf management could revert to what was in place when wolves were listed under the federal Endangered Species Act.
The Idaho Fish and Game Commission, which manages the state's wildlife, opposed the measure. The commission, while noting it also wanted to reduce the wolf population, cited concerns that the proposed law would override certain commission decisions.
Opponents said that Idaho residents want the Fish and Game Commission to decide wildlife policy, not lawmakers.