Bill would allow Idahoans to sue over wolf deaths
BOISE, Idaho ” An Idaho lawmaker says state law should allow people to sue the federal government if a wolf eats somebody, even though officials in Idaho and other states with sizable populations of the predators say they have no reports of wolves ever attacking humans.
Rep. Phil Hart, R-Athol, told the House Resources and Conservation Committee on Friday that the federal government knew gray wolves were dangerous when the animal was reintroduced in the mid-1990s and should be held responsible for any deaths.
An estimated 825 wolves in Idaho and 1,500 total in northern Rocky Mountain states remain under federal protection.
“It doesn’t just kill to eat, it kills for the fun of it,” Hart said. “They knew this and they put us in the situation where someone’s going to get killed.”
His bill would allow survivors of potential victims to sue and would make it a felony for people to protect killer wolves, punishable by up to five years in state prison and a $50,000 fine.
Ed Bangs, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist who led the nation’s wolf recovery effort, said that he understands the emotions behind Hart’s bill, but doubts it would stand up in court.
“Courts have held that an agency or individual can’t be held responsible for the actions of a wild animal,” Bangs said.
Bangs said there is no record of a wolf killing a human in the lower 48 states.
“The amazing thing about wolves is they don’t kill people,” Bangs said. “A deer is 100 times more dangerous than a wolf if you look at the number of people killed.”
Federal Endangered Species Act protections were nearly lifted from gray wolves in the northern Rocky Mountains in January; the decision is currently under review by the Obama administration.
Idaho wildlife officials want to manage the wolf population through hunting to protect the state’s big game animals. But state Department of Fish and Game officials say no wolf attack has been recorded in the state.
Idaho’s top wolf manager, Steve Nadeau, said there have been reports of wolves entering backyards or being seen in public places.
“There are lots of situations where wolves are becoming habituated and that caused some concern,” Nadeau said.
Fish and Game Department spokesman Ed Mitchell said he has heard from a number of people who are worried about wolf attacks.
Mitchell said wolves come into places like backyards because deer or elk are there.
“They’re going to follow their lunch,” Mitchell said. “Its not erupted in someone getting chewed on by wolves.”
Likewise, wildlife officials in the Great Lakes region, including Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin, all told The Associated Press there has never been an attack or death of a human because of wolves in their states. The area has an estimated 4,000 wolves, also the subject of a delisting debate.
“The chance of them attacking you is not that great,” Michigan Department of Natural Resources spokeswoman Mary Detloss said.
Detloss said historical records for Michigan show two incidents when humans were scratched when they tried to break up fights between their dogs and the wolves.
In Alaska, where there are as many as 11,200 wolves, people in remote regions have reported encounters with the predators, including a December 2007 incident where three women who were jogging were followed by a pack that eventually attacked and injured one of their dogs. Phone calls to wildlife officials in Alaska wasn’t immediately returned.
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