Idaho’s wolf hunt will be extended through March 31, or until each hunting zone reaches its quota, the state’s Fish and Game Commission decided at a Thursday meeting in Coeur d’Alene.
Low hunter success rates in some zones, including the Idaho Panhandle, prompted the three-month season extension for the wolf season, which was scheduled to end Dec. 31.
The longer hunt drew immediate criticism from the Northern Idaho Wolf Alliance of Sandpoint, whose members said it would lower wolf pup survival rates.
“By extending the wolf hunt into the late winter denning season, (Idaho Fish and Game) will condemn many wolf pups to slow starvation brought about by the deaths of their mothers and other key pack members,” said alliance spokesman Ken Fischman, who attended Thursday’s meeting.
Alliance members presented the commission with 489 signatures from local residents who oppose wolf hunting. But commission members said the public hunt is needed to keep Idaho’s wolf population in check, and protect elk herds where they’re struggling.
So far, 110 wolves – half of the statewide quota of 220 – have been taken during the state’s first public hunt since wolves in the Northern Rockies were removed from the Endangered Species List. In the Idaho Panhandle, where the quota is 30 wolves, hunters have killed 11.
Hunters have difficulty tracking wolves in rugged and heavily forested terrain, said Jim Unsworth, the Idaho Department of Fish and Game’s deputy director. He recommended the longer season for the Panhandle, and central Idaho’s Selway and Salmon zones.
Fish and Game Commissioner Randy Budge of Pocatello countered with a proposal to extend the season statewide. Commission members adopted it unanimously.
At the end of 2008, Idaho had a minimum of 846 wolves, according to state estimates. Nearly 180 wolf pups were confirmed this year.
The fall hunt was supposed to keep Idaho’s wolf population at existing levels, Budge said.
“We’re at less than a 50 percent success ratio with the deer and elk season over,” he said. That’s important, because many of the wolf tags were purchased by deer and elk hunters, who planned to shoot a wolf if they saw one, but weren’t actively hunting wolves, Budge said.
Members of Nez Perce Tribe, which are allowed to hunt wolves outside of the state quota, haven’t taken any either, he added.
Wolves are hunted in 12 different geographic zones across the state. The season has already closed in three zones, where wolf quotas have been met. In two other zones, including the Lolo, where high levels of elk mortality are attributed to wolves, the season was already scheduled to run through March 31.