PREDATORS — Wolf culling has ended for the season in the Lolo Zone as aerial gunners, trappers and sport hunters have killed a total of 42 wolves since spring 2011, Idaho Fish and Game Department officials reported this afternoon.
With moose and elk populations at critical low levels, Idaho went to the extraordinary measures of enlisting aerial shooters from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Wildlfie Services to kill 14 of the wolves from a helicopter in early February.
State officials say the Lolo Zone wolf numbers have been reduced by about half but as may as 50 or so still remain in the zone bordering Montana.
As of today, Feb. 22, hunters and trappers have taken a total of 318 wolves across the state since seasons opened last fall.
Read on for more details.
Over three days in early February, Wildlife Services agents killed 14 wolves from a helicopter. The action is part of, and consistent with Idaho’s predation management plan for the Lolo elk zone.
In the Lolo zone, hunters have taken 11 wolves, trappers have taken 11, control efforts earlier in spring 2011 took six, and the most recent control effort took 14 for a total of 42 wolves.
The control action is part of continuing efforts to reduce excess predation on elk herds in the Lolo zone. Elk numbers in the Lolo zone have not met objectives in recent years with predation being the most important factor limiting elk.
In recent years wolves have been identified as the primary cause of death in female elk and calves over six months old. But the habitat in the area is capable of supporting an increased population, Deputy Director Jim Unsworth said.
“We’d like to see one of Idaho’s premier elk populations recover as much as possible,” he said.
In September, 2010, Fish and Game submitted a proposal to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to allow wolf control actions in the Lolo elk zone under a provision of the Endangered Species Act. The initial target of that proposal was the removal of 40 to 50 wolves.
In May, 2011, after wolves in Idaho were removed from the endangered species list, Fish and Game resumed management and initiated the first control action guided by the predation management plan for the Lolo and Selway elk zones.
Fish and Game will continue to monitor elk, moose and wolf populations, and will manage predation with an objective of increasing the Lolo elk herd.
Wolf populations are not in jeopardy in the Lolo zone, but Fish and Game intends to maintain wolf numbers at a level that will result in reduced elk mortality.
Before the start of the hunting season last fall, the population was estimated at about 75 to 100 wolves, with additional animals crossing back and forth between Idaho and Montana.
Elk will be monitored to see whether the population increases in response to regulated hunting, trapping and wolf control actions.
No more aerial control actions are planned at this time. The wolf hunting season in the Lolo continues through June, and the trapping season continues through the end of March.
The cost of the action is estimated at $22,500 in license funds.