Trapping wolves will be allowed in Idaho, and hunters can use electronic calls to attract the elusive predators, Idaho wildlife officials decided Thursday.
By liberalizing hunting methods, members of Idaho’s Fish and Game Commission said they hoped to reduce the state’s wolf population, giving some struggling elk herds a chance to rebound.
Idaho’s wolf population is estimated at a minimum of 835 wolves in 94 packs. The Fish and Game Commission’s eventual goal is to reduce the wolf population to about 500 animals. Quotas for the upcoming fall wolf-hunt season will be set at the commission’s August meeting.
Meanwhile, Montana wildlife regulators on Thursday set their state’s wolf-hunt quota at 186, more than doubling last year’s quota, with the aim of reducing the state’s wolf population for the first time since they were reintroduced to the Northern Rockies in 1995.
Advocates for public wolf hunts hailed the states’ decisions, although some said they would still like to see stronger action.
“We just need to get rid of some of these wolves, so that people who want to put an elk in the freezer can get one,” said Rick Huddleston of St. Maries.
About 50 people attended the Idaho Fish and Game Commission’s public hearing Wednesday night in Kellogg, with wolves dominating the agenda.
But whether a hunting season actually happens may be in the hands of a federal judge. U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy is expected to make a ruling after hearing arguments last month in a lawsuit brought by environmental groups seeking to restore Endangered Species Act protections for wolves in Montana and Idaho.
Opponents of the wolf hunt argued that Idaho is moving too aggressively to cull its wolf population.
“We’re taking them down to numbers where they aren’t able to do the job they’re meant to do in nature,” said Nancy Taylor, a member of the North Idaho Wolf Alliance, noting that predators help keep ecosystems in balance.
She also opposed the use of traps and snares, which were approved by the commission. The commission also voted to allow hunters to kill wolves at bear bait stations, if the hunters have wolf tags. “I would like to see it more of a fair fight,” Taylor said.
Hunters told the commission that they see fewer elk since wolves were reintroduced. They urged the commission to liberalize take methods or to make the wolf season year round.
“We already know that hunting is not going to solve the problem,” said Milt Turley of Avery. “They’re damn hard to shoot. They’re quick and they’re getting smart.
“I love to hear them howl, too,” Turley added, “…but I don’t want them eating my elk herd.”
As the comments grew heated, Idaho Fish and Game Commissioner Randy Budge urged the crowd to stick to facts.
“Some of you suggest that there are no more elk in Idaho. The facts don’t bear you out,” said Budge, of Pocatello.
Idaho has 29 elk management units. In six units, elk numbers are below population targets, 13 meet population targets and 10 are above target, Budge said.
Wolves are only one part of the management picture, said Jon Rachael, the Idaho Department of Fish and Game’s state wildlife manager. Some of the elk herds were in a slow, steady decline before wolves were reintroduced. Adding a new predator has speeded up those herds’ decline, Rachael said.