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‘Special’ wolf tags could go to auction

BOISE - Idaho is looking at auctioning off 10 “special wolf tags” to the highest bidders, as a fundraiser for wolf management.

Such an auction or lottery was authorized by state lawmakers when they set up the tag program for wolf hunts, but that was before the state Fish and Game Department determined the rules of its current wolf hunt, which include selling unlimited numbers of regular tags for a shot at up to 220 of the state’s wolves. Through Monday, the state had sold 15,339 tags, at $11.50 each for Idaho hunters; three wolves had been shot, plus a fourth that was poached.

So just how “special” are these tags? They’re the first 10, sequentially, numbered 1 through 10. They were held out when regular tag sales started, with the first regular tag bearing the number 101.

“I think there’ll be some value in the novelty,” said Jim Unsworth, deputy director at Idaho Fish and Game. But Unsworth said, “We don’t expect this to be a big fundraiser.”

The department works with nonprofit groups to auction tags for bighorn sheep and other trophy big game, but those tags are very limited and hard to get - so they’re worth more to bidders. “The way we’re managing wolves right now, there’s an unlimited number of tags, but we’re managing with a quota,” Unsworth said. “So everyone can hunt.”

Fish and Game spokesman Niels Nokkentved said, “The way we look at it here, it’s a chance for folks to own a piece of Idaho hunting history, being as it’s the first time we ever issued tags for wolves.”

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter has been saying for the past two years that he wanted to be the first to bid on a chance to shoot a wolf. But the governor bought his wolf tag on Aug. 26, according to department records. That was during the first week the tags went on sale; he purchased the tag at a Boise sporting goods store.

“He said he wanted to get a wolf tag, he’s got a wolf tag,” said Otter spokesman Jon Hanian. “I don’t know if he’s going to bid at the auction or not.”

Hanian said Otter “thinks it’s great” to hold the auction. “It’s an opportunity to raise money for an agency that depends on hunter fees and license, fishing and otherwise, in order to function.”

State wolf management costs include radio collars, tracking and other research. “The technology’s pretty expensive,” Unsworth said, “so every little bit can help with that kind of research.”

Unsworth said there may be controlled hunts for wolves in certain areas in the future; those may be bigger draws for auctioned tags, which are limited to 10 per year. The Idaho Fish and Game Commission is holding a special meeting Wednesday morning to authorize rules for the tag auction.