PREDATORS — Idaho Fish and Game, in cooperation with the USDA Wildlife Services, killed 23 gray wolves from a helicopter near the Idaho-Montana border during February in an effort to relieve predation on the struggling elk herds in the remote Lolo Zone.
The agency said in a just-issued media release that the wolf-control effort has been completed.
“The action is consistent with Idaho’s predation management plan for the Lolo elk zone, where predation is the major reason elk population numbers are considerably below management objectives,” the agency said in the release.
In addition to the animals killed in this control action, 17 wolves have been taken by hunters and trappers in the Lolo zone during the 2013-14 season – 7 by hunting and 10 by trapping, officials said.
The trapping season ends March 31, the hunting season ends June 30.
Fish and Game estimates there were 75 -100 wolves in the Lolo zone at the start of the 2013 hunting season with additional animals crossing back and forth between Idaho and Montana and from other Idaho elk zones. Officials said their goal is to reduce that Lolo zone wolf population by 70 percent.
The Lolo elk population has declined from 16,000 elk in 1989 to roughly 2,100 elk in 2010, when Fish and Game last surveyed the zone.
The Lolo predation management plan is posted on the Fish and Game website.
This is the sixth agency control action taken in Lolo zone during the last four years. A total of 25 wolves were taken in the previous five actions.
Fish and Game officials say they authorize control actions where wolves are causing conflicts with people or domestic animals, or are a significant factor in prey population declines. Such control actions are consistent with Idaho’s 2002 Wolf Conservation and Management Plan approved by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Idaho Legislature, they say.
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Fish and Game prefers to manage wolf populations using hunters and trappers and only authorizes control actions where harvest has been insufficient to meet management goals. The Lolo zone is steep, rugged country that is difficult to access, especially in winter.
Restoring the Lolo elk population will require liberal bear, mountain lion, and wolf harvest through hunting and trapping (in the case of wolves), and control actions in addition to improving elk habitat. The short-term goals in Fish and Game’s 2014 Elk Plan are to stabilize the elk population and begin to help it grow.
Helicopter crews are now capturing and placing radio collars on elk, moose, and wolves in the Lolo zone in order to continue monitoring to see whether prey populations increase in response to regulated wolf hunting, trapping and control actions.