December 7, 2008 in Outdoors

Wolves targeted despite hunt ban

From staff and wire reports
File Associated Press photo

All or most of the gray wolves in three western Montana packs are being killed after they attacked livestock.
(Full-size photo)

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Background and the latest updates

Growing pains

 Adult wolves in Yellowstone National Park have been killing each other more than usual this year and wolf pups have been dying at the same time, apparently of disease, a park biologist reports.

 It’s a “double-whammy” that is likely to mean a crash in the overall Yellowstone wolf population this year, said Doug Smith, Yellowstone wolf project leader.

 The park had 10 breeding pairs of wolves with surviving pups last year, but this year that number will likely be cut in half, Smith said.

A court order that restored endangered status to the region’s gray wolves has put proposed wolf-hunting seasons on the back burner, but government guns are being called in to help livestock owners cope.

The Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks last week authorized the USDA Wildlife Services to kill the wolves after a 2-year-old bull was killed near Kila.

Hog Heaven wolves are also believed responsible for killing three llamas on Aug. 6, a calf on Sept. 16, two heifers on Sept. 23, a calf of Sept. 25 and another calf on Oct. 8.

“They’ve shown us that this is chronic behavior,” said Kent Laudon, a wolf management specialist with FWP. “They’re habituated to killing livestock.”

At least seven Hog Heaven wolves have already been killed in response to livestock depredation. Laudon said he believes at least five wolves remain in the pack.

In November, federal trappers killed three wolves from the Monitor Mountain pack following the death of three cows on a ranch southwest of Augusta.

In October, state wildlife officials authorized the lethal removal of the Skalkaho wolf pack after escalating problems between the pack and cattle on private land southwest of Philipsburg. Meantime, Idaho Fish and Game Department biologists say they have evidence wolves are the primary cause of death among a shrinking population of cow elk in northcentral Idaho.

The agency estimates cow elk in a remote area designated as the Lolo Hunting Zone have dwindled by as much as 13 percent each year. Idaho Fish and Game has previously requested permission for federal trappers to kill wolves this region.

The agency now says it would rather see the wolves delisted as an endangered species and let hunters take care of the predators blamed for the thinning elk population.

State wildlife biologist George Pauley says nearly 90 percent of the elk in the Lolo Hunting Zone need to survive each year to maintain a healthy population. The state estimates about 75 percent of the elk survive each year.

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