Outdoors

Wolves enter mainstream

Status report indicates species ready to manage

Montana and Idaho are ready to go with gray wolf management plans that include limited hunting now that the predators are being removed from the federal endangered species list.

The Idaho Fish and Game Commission this week adopted tentative wolf hunting seasons to run Sept. 1-March 31 in the Lolo and Sawtooth zones, Sept. 15-Dec. 31 in the Selway and Middle Fork zones and elsewhere Oct. 1 through Dec. 31.

Specific quotas will be set in August, pending official federal wolf delisting.

Meanwhile, Fish and Game Department officials said they will respond aggressively to areas where wolves are causing chronic problems with livestock.

About 1,645 wolves were documented in the Northern Rockies at the end of 2008, with about 95 breeding pairs. Idaho has the biggest concentration of wolves, according to federal surveys – a minimum of 846 compared with 496 in Montana and 302 in Wyoming.

State management plans set ideal populations goals of at least 500 wolves in Idaho and 400 in Montana.

“The real story of wolf recovery is that about 95 percent of the Montana wolf population now lives outside of national parks on both public and private lands,” said Joe Maurier, the state’s Fish, Wildlife and Parks director.

Idaho’s first official wolf hunting seasons coincide with the commission’s decision to dramatic reduce the state’s elk and deer hunting seasons this fall.

A combination of wolf predation and two hard winters has sportsmen and biologists especially worried about calf and fawn survival in some of the state’s most famous big-game producing regions.

Some animal protection groups continue to vigorously oppose wolf delisting.

But Ed Bangs, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist who’s led the wildly successful wolf recovery effort since 1988, says scientists have proved that wolves are firmly established throughout the northern Rockies recovery zone.

Management is necessary to maintain social acceptance for the wolves, he said.

“Resident wolf packs occupy nearly all of the suitable habitat in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming so there really isn’t anymore room for more wolf packs without lots more livestock and pet damage than we current have,” Bangs said.

The wolves themselves have verified they are overpopulated in some areas.

Wolf numbers have dropped 24 percent in Yellowstone National Park area since 2007 as the packs naturally culled their numbers through attacks on other wolves and disease outbreaks, said Doug Smith, Yellowstone wolf project leader.

However, outside the park, expanding numbers of wolves have the last-ditch survival option of turning to non-natural food sources, such as livestock.

“Last year was a record with at least 214 cattle, 355 sheep, 14 dogs and 18 other large domestic animals confirmed killed (by wolves),” Bangs said. “Studies indicate only a fraction, perhaps only one in eight of actual wolf-caused losses, are ever confirmed.”

In 2008, nearly $500,000 was paid by private and state compensation programs for livestock growers impacted by wolves. In addition, the federal government spent nearly $1 million controlling wolves that were zeroing in on livestock.

With wolves entering their birthing season, here’s the status of gray wolves compiled by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in its annual report for 2008.

IDAHO

Minimum population: 846 wolves in 88 packs in Idaho, plus 16 documented border packs counted in Montana and Wyoming.

Net increase: 114 wolves.

•Breeding packs: 60.

•Pups produced: at least 192.

•16 previously unknown packs documented, but net increase in packs statewide was only five.

•315 livestock and 12 dogs confirmed killed by wolves.

•Deaths of 153 wolves confirmed, 108 livestock-related.

Notes: At least five packs documented in the Idaho Panhandle, plus at least 12 border packs.

MONTANA

Minimum population: 497 wolves in 84 packs, plus 23 documented border packs counted in Idaho.

Net increase: 75 wolves.

•Breeding packs: 34 (doesn’t count packs ranging into Montana from Yellowstone or Idaho).

•Pups produced: at least 161 (147 documented alive at end of year)

•205 livestock and 2 dogs confirmed killed by wolves.

•Deaths of 161 wolves confirmed, 110 livestock-related.

Notes: Montana studies indicate the number of elk killed during winter by wolves ranges widely, from seven to 23 elk killed per wolf from November-April. Kill rates appear to be smaller in summer.

WYOMING

Minimum population: 302 wolves in 42 packs.

Net decrease: 57 wolves. (Total number of wolves decreased 16 percent from 2007, mostly from packs within Yellowstone National Park.)

•Breeding packs: 22.

•Pups produced: at least 138 (83 documented alive at end of year).

•67-80 livestock confirmed killed by wolves.

•Deaths of 96 wolves confirmed, 46 livestock-related and at least 17 from pack strife, disease and other natural causes within Yellowstone Park.

Note: Wolves remain under Endangered Species protection because state’s management plan not approved.


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Rich Landers

Rich Landers

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