BOISE - Idaho will start selling tags next Monday for its first-ever public wolf hunt, to give hunters from both inside and outside the state a shot at up to 220 of Idaho’s wolves - a quarter of the wolf population.
Idaho’s Fish and Game Commission voted 4-3 for the wolf-hunt plan, with the three dissenters holding out for an even more aggressive hunt to target 49 percent, or up to 430, of Idaho’s wolves. Chairman Wayne Wright, one of the dissenters, declared, “Now’s the time to do the right thing. … Neither our state’s economy, our ranchers, our sportsmen or our elk herds can wait any longer.”
The decision was closely watched both by hunters who’ve been deluging Fish and Game with inquiries about the hunt, and by wolf advocates who maintain the state’s going too far to target a species that until May was considered endangered.
“We fear that under the guise of wolf management, what’s about to happen is a wolf massacre,” said Stephen Augustine, spokesman for the Sandpoint-based Northern Idaho Wolf Alliance. The group has scheduled public demonstrations against the wolf hunt for Aug. 28 in Coeur d’Alene and Aug. 31 in Sandpoint.
A tag to shoot a wolf will cost $11.75 for an Idaho resident, or $186 for a non-resident. That’s in addition to the cost of a hunting license, which runs $12.75 for residents and $154.75 for non-residents.
In the North Idaho Panhandle zone, hunters will have a shot at 30 wolves, during a season that will run from Oct. 1 to Dec. 31. “For all the talk, the Panhandle Zone doesn’t have that many wolves, compared to some other places,” said Ed Mitchell, Fish and Game conservation information supervisor. “Selway and Lolo zones, that’s a whole different story.”
In those north-central Idaho zones, hunters can start shooting Sept. 1 in the Lolo, and Sept. 15 in the Selway. The Lolo season will run through March 31; the Selway season through Dec. 31. Quotas set Monday for those two zones are 27 wolves in the Lolo, and 17 in the Selway.
Tony McDermott of Sagle, Fish and Game commissioner for the Panhandle region, said wolves are not easy to hunt. “We’ll be lucky to probably hit half of the hunter harvest limit that we’ve set,” he said. “Although we’re encouraged that in the open country we’ll be successful, in the forested areas of central Idaho and northern Idaho, it’s going to be much more difficult.”
He estimated that about 70,000 hunters will get wolf tags, but said many won’t succeed in bagging a wolf. “So it’s a trial and process to see exactly how Idaho works this out,” he said.
Wolves have been highly controversial in Idaho, especially since they were reintroduced to the state in 1995, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service introduced 35 gray wolves from Canada to central Idaho over two years. They’ve since multiplied. They were declared endangered in 1974, but were removed from the endangered species list in May.
Mitchell said Fish and Game now estimates there are 1,020 wolves in Idaho. “That’s what the argument is about,” he said. “The recovery was 300 for the three states,” Idaho, Montana and Wyoming. Idaho’s current goal, under its management plan, is to eventually return the state to its 2005 level of 520 wolves.
Suzanne Asha Stone, northern rockies representative for Defenders of Wildlife, said her organization and 12 others that sued over delisting will decide in the next few days whether to seek an injunction against the hunt. “We have a wolf population that’s starting to become viable,” she said. “Cutting it down by half is just not responsible wildlife management. It’s too severe.”
Montana also is moving forward with a fall wolf hunt; it’s set its quota at 75 wolves to be killed statewide. Wolves still are listed as endangered in Wyoming, due to that state’s failure to adopt a wolf management plan as required by federal wildlife agencies.
Several lawsuits are pending over the delisting, and if an injunction is issued in federal court, it could block Idaho’s upcoming hunt. That’s part of the reason the setting of the quotas for the hunt was so closely watched; higher numbers would be more likely to draw court challenges. That prompted Montana to set a relatively low figure.
There’s strong support in Idaho’s political establishment for the wolf hunt. In 2007, Idaho Gov. Butch Otter told cheering, camouflage-bedecked hunters at a snowy rally on the Statehouse steps, “I’m prepared to bid for that first ticket to shoot a wolf myself.” But it turns out no bidding is necessary - the tags will be sold everywhere Idaho big game tags are sold, including all Idaho Fish and Game offices, online, and private vendors such as Cabela’s. Sales will start at 10 a.m. on Aug. 24.
Otter’s spokesman, Jon Hanian, said Monday afternoon that the governor supports the commission’s decision.
Augustine said his group will rally against the wolf hunt in on Aug. 28 in Coeur d’Alene, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Idaho Fish and Game building, 2885 W. Kathleen Ave., and on Aug. 31 in Sandpoint, from 11 to 1 at the county courthouse, South First Avenue and Lake Street. The Northern Idaho Wolf Alliance also will hold a wolf education program for families and children at the Sandpoint Community Hall to coincide with the Sandpoint rally.
“It is really astonishing that you could have an animal on the endangered species list at one point, and a bare five months later they’re being hunted,” Augustine said. “To my knowledge there isn’t another animal that has had this happen to them.”
Mitchell said interest from hunters, from both inside and outside Idaho, has been “huge, huge. … I’ve gotten a lot of out-of-state calls. … I think there is tremendous out-of-state interest, but it’s primarily from out-of-staters who regularly hunt in Idaho.”
So far, he said, the inquiries he’s received have been split roughly down the middle, between those who want to rid the state of wolves, and those who “are more interested in the hunting of them.”