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F&G chief: Wilderness wolf hunt was called off because it was no longer being effective

Idaho Fish & Game Director Virgil Moore, who made his budget presentation to lawmakers this morning, said afterward that the department called off its professional hunt for wolves in the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness yesterday because “we had been ineffective in the last two weeks on taking any additional wolves.” The hunt had taken nine wolves in the area since the operation began in December. “The analysis the staff has done tells us we’re near where we want to be with take in there,” Moore said, between the department’s operation and sport hunting and trapping in the area, though “we went in there with the expectation of staying longer.”

Moore said, “I hope that allows us to continue to have a conversation about our management actions for elk.” Conservationists challenged the operation under the Wilderness Act, but their initial court challenge was unsuccessful. Moore called the wilderness operation “very similar” to past years’ efforts in the Lolo zone to reduce wolf numbers, though those relied mainly on aerial shooting and trapping. The operation in the Frank Church wilderness “differed because we put one of our folks back there,” he said.

“Evaluation of the cost-benefit is what led to the staff decision to pull folks out of there,” Moore said. Click below for last night's full AP report on the end of the operation.


State pulls pro wolf hunter from wilderness
By JOHN MILLER, Associated Press

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Idaho wildlife managers Monday called off a professional hunter who has been killing wolves inside a federal wilderness area since last year amid an effort by advocates to convince federal courts to halt the hunt.

Department of Fish and Wildlife officials said it was calling off the hunt, which it said was meant to bolster lackluster elk populations, after nine wolves were killed.

The state agency had planned to keep hunter Gus Thoreson of Salmon in the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness this winter.

Now, it says it will take several days to complete the collection of equipment, including traps, as well as to transport of Fish and Game personnel out of the area.

Fish and Game Director Virgil Moore's acknowledgement that Thoreson's hunt relied on the use of the U.S. Forest Service's backcountry airstrips and cabin had prompted strong emotions, including from wolf advocates who sued in federal court to force him to quit. Though they lost their initial bid to immediately stop his activities, foes of the hunt had appealed, arguing that Thoreson's activities violated the 1964 Wilderness Act and other federal acts.

“We remain committed to working with Idahoans to ensure that both wolves and healthy elk populations remain part of the wilderness,” Moore said in a statement. “This action was an important step toward achieving our goal of stabilizing the Middle Fork elk population.”

Moore said the agency would begin posting on its website all its future efforts to bolster elk in the region around the Middle Fork of the Salmon River starting in mid-February.

He didn't give a reason for pulling the plug on Thoreson's bid to kill wolves that made up the Golden Creek and Monumental Creek wolf packs.

Wolf advocates initially lost their bid for a federal court judge to force Thoreson to quit hunting wolves from his base on U.S. Forest Service territory.

On Monday, however, they said their continued pressure in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals helped convince Fish and Game officials to end the hunt.

“They had planned to stay there through April,” said Suzanne Stone of the group Defenders of Wildlife in Boise. “I hope that they don't target wolves in the wilderness again. There's huge respect for wilderness in this state. This is one of the only places where wildlife can run free, can actually achieve more of a natural balance.”

Fish and Game spokesman Mike Demick didn't return a call seeking additional comment Monday afternoon.

Wolves were reintroduced to Idaho in the mid-1990s and have since flourished in backcountry regions, including the Frank Church wilderness.

There are now about 680 wolves in the state, according to Fish and Game's 2012 estimates.


  

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press


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Betsy Z. Russell covers Idaho news from The Spokesman-Review's bureau in Boise.

Named best state-based political blog in Idaho for 2013 by The Fix

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