December 28, 2008 in Outdoors

Gray wolf leaves its mark throughout the Northwest

By Rich Landers Outdoors editor
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Background and the latest updates

The 2008 Critter of the Year for the Inland Northwest had no rivals at the top of the food chain — except for man.

The gray wolf garnered love and loathing in huge proportions, and no animal generated so much attention in the field as well as in meeting rooms and courtrooms.

In March, the reintroduction of gray wolves to the northern Rockies, which began in 1995, was officially declared a success. They were removed from the federal Endangered Species list, transferring most wolf management authority from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to the states of Idaho, Montana and Wyoming.

All three states have developed management plans that include hunting to control wolf populations, which totaled more than 1,500 in 192 packs in the three-state area at the end of 2007.

While Idaho and Montana were planning more measured hunting plans, Wyoming unleashed shooters with guns blazing in much of the state. Environmentalists filed suit.

As early as mid-July, a federal judge restored endangered species protections, derailing plans by three states to hold public wolf hunts in the fall.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reopened public comment through Nov. 28 on its proposal to delist the wolves. The Bush administration in its last weeks in office may once again declare the species recovered and remove federal protections for the wolves in much of the region.

Meantime, wolf packs were having another season of litters, and some things couldn’t wait.

In 2007, about 24 percent of the wolf packs in the three states —60 out of 192— were involved in confirmed livestock kills. In response, 186 wolves were killed by agents within the three-state area (about 11 percent of the 2007 wolf population).

Through mid-December 2008, at least 245 wolves had been legally killed by government wildlife agents and ranchers following repeated attacks on livestock.

The removals included 102 wolves in Montana, 101 in Idaho and 42 in Wyoming. Seven entire packs were eliminated in Montana.

Another nine wolves were shot in Wyoming’s specially designated “predator zone” before the lawsuit shut down public hunting.

Hunters in Idaho and Montana were much more vocal this fall regarding the impact wolves are having on elk populations, state wildlife officials say. One Montana hunter shot a bull elk this fall only to have a wolf pack take over the carcass before he could get to it.

Idaho Fish and Game officials reported survey data indicating the serious impacts wolves were having on elk.

In other developments:

• Oregon confirmed a wolf pack with pups this summer in northern Union County, the first evidence of multiple wolves and reproduction in Oregon since wolves were extirpated from the state in the mid-1940s.

•In the same week, Washington documented its first functioning wolf pack since the 1930s. The wolves and a new litter of pups were confirmed by photographs and howling surveys about the same time a citizen panel was finishing proposals for a controversial state wolf management plan.

•Wolves also were documented in Pend Oreille County and a vehicle struck and killed a wolf in southern Stevens County.

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