Now that wolves are once again being removed from Endangered Species Act protections, Idaho Fish & Game Director Virgil Moore says the state is gearing up for a fall wolf hunting season and will move immediately to reduce wolf numbers in the Lolo zone. The state had been awaiting approval from federal authorities to kill wolves there under Section 10J of the ESA; that no longer applies, now that the state is taking over wolf management again, and the department can go ahead on its own. Aerial shooting, summer trapping and other measures are possible there, in what Moore characterized as a “multi-year operation.” “We're going to move expeditiously to get going with all that,” Moore said from his office at Idaho Fish & Game headquarters, where he answered reporters' questions today.
It's not yet clear how many wolf kills Idaho will authorize in the fall hunt; the Fish & Game Commission will decide that this summer. Last time, the state set a harvest limit of 220 animals and sold more than 31,000 tags. “It's probably going to look very similar to what we had in 2009 and 2010,” Moore said. “We saw a significant drop in the number of livestock wolf depredations after that hunting season.”
Current official estimates are that Idaho has a minimum of 705 wolves, but state game manager Jon Rachael said state Fish & Game wasn't involved in the monitoring in the last part of this year, and believes the number likely is closer to 1,000. As many as nine packs in remote areas may have been missed in the most recent survey, Rachael said.
Moore said Idaho's goal, as set by the state Legislature, will be to manage its wolf population in such a way that there's no risk of falling below the federal minimum of 150 wolves in the state at any time and risking federal sanctions or re-listing. “Wolves are here to stay, OK, they are part of the landscape,” he said. “Whether you agree with how they got here or why they got here, they are now wards of the state and we will manage them appropriately, in balance with the management goals we have for other species, and we will avoid any risk of ever getting these things back listed again in our management actions, just like we plan to do with all species that we have.”