Idaho is preparing for its first public wolf hunt in decades, following Interior Secretary Ken Salazar’s decision Friday to remove the elusive predator from the endangered-species list in the Northern Rockies.
Allowing hunters to shoot wolves will defuse some of the controversy surrounding gray wolves’ return to Idaho’s forests and plains, said Jim Unsworth, deputy director for Idaho Fish and Game.
The state is ready to manage wolves “like other big game animals,” he said. “This will give hunters confidence that they can be part of the management.”
Later this month, Idaho’s Fish and Game Commission will finish plans for a fall season. The state expects to sell about 10,000 wolf tags at $10 to $20 each, but hunting will cease after quotas are met, said Unsworth, who predicted that hunter success would vary with terrain.
“Parts of Idaho are so rough and rugged that wolves will live and die without ever seeing a hunter,” he said.
Gov. Butch Otter learned that wolves were taken off the endangered-species list Friday during a news conference. Asked for his reaction, Otter performed a howl. “This is pretty powerful medicine for us,” he said.
Otter called the wolves’ recovery “a great success story in Idaho” and said the state’s management plan would lead to sustainable wolf populations. He also reiterated an earlier remark about wanting to shoot the first wolf in Idaho.
Idaho’s wolf population is estimated at 846 animals in 88 packs, with 39 breeding pairs. Wildlife managers plan to cull the population to 521. According to Unsworth, achieving the reduction could take several years. Natural mortality and other causes of death – such as wolves struck by cars – would also be included in the counts.
The delisting also includes populations in the Great Lakes states. In Wyoming, wolves will remain federally protected.
In Idaho and Montana, the federal government will continue monitoring wolf populations for five years. If necessary, the wolves can regain their Endangered Species Act protection on an emergency basis.
National environment groups criticized Salazar’s decision, saying wolf numbers are still too low to allow delisting or hunting.
Michael Robinson, of the New Mexico-based Center for Biological Diversity, said the wolf population in the Northern Rockies has fewer than 200 breeding animals. That’s far below the number independent biologists deem necessary to avoid long-term genetic problems and decline, he said.
The Idaho Conservation League, which was involved in developing the state’s wolf management plan, takes a different stance.
“We want to go on the record supporting hunting as a legitimate tool for managing wolves, particularly in high-conflict areas. We want to deter wolves from setting shop in areas where they would get into trouble,” said John Robison, the league’s public lands director.
But the league would also like the state to create non-hunting zones, where wolf-viewing could develop as a cottage industry. Yellowstone National Park brings in millions of dollars annually in wolf tourism. It flourishes because researchers and local guides know the wolves’ individual life histories and their place in the pack over several generations, and recount them “like a soap opera” for tourists, Robinson said.
Fish and Game’s Unsworth said hunting-free zones are not under consideration.
Managing Idaho’s wolf population costs about $1.2 million annually – a cost that the federal government will continue to help pay for over the next five years.
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