BOISE – The Idaho Fish and Game Department released a plan late Friday to kill 70 to 80 of the 100 or so wolves in the Lolo elk management zone, and keep that zone’s wolf population at just 20 to 30 for the next five years to reduce pressure on elk herds.
With wolf hunts off the table since a federal judge reinstated endangered species protection, the Fish and Game plan calls for officials to conduct the wolf removal, rather than hunters.
“Idaho Fish and Game would prefer to let hunters help manage the wolf population. But until the wolves are delisted and turned over to state management, Idaho has decided to pursue the best option available under the Endangered Species Act,” the department said in a news release.
The Lolo zone, one of 29 in the state, is the only one targeted because of “unacceptable impacts on the elk population by a wolf population that has recovered biologically.” Fish and Game is opening a two-week public comment period on the plan; at the close of the period, it’ll be submitted to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for final approval.
Fish and Game spokesman Ed Mitchell said the Fish and Game Commission will discuss details of the plan on Monday at its meeting in Idaho Falls. That’s the day the commission had planned to set wolf hunting seasons and limits for the next year, but the federal judge’s recent ruling changed that.
Fish and Game estimated that the wolf-kill plan for the Clearwater drainage would remove about 7 percent of the estimated minimum of 835 wolves that were in the state at the end of 2009.
Deputy Director Jim Unsworth said the move would not affect overall wolf recovery efforts for the state, but it could improve elk numbers. Unsworth described the department’s plan as a “science-based proposal.”
Suzanne Asha Stone, Northern Rockies representative for Defenders of Wildlife, said, “We certainly agree wolves should be managed, but they shouldn’t substitute a political agenda for the science behind it.” She said her group believes other factors have impacted Lolo elk herds besides wolves.