Liberalizing hunting methods for wolves – including the use of traps, bait and electronic calls – will be discussed at the Idaho Fish and Game Commission meeting Thursday.
The use of bait, traps and electronic calls could help hunters fill their wolf tags in hard-to-hunt areas, said Ed Mitchell, a Fish and Game spokesman. But the idea is drawing fire from Defenders of Wildlife, which questions whether Idaho has enough wolves to hunt in the first place.
Trapping and baiting led to wolves’ extermination from the Northern Rockies in the early 1900s, said Jesse Timberlake, a conservation associate with Defenders of Wildlife’s Boise office.
“We’re very worried that they’re steamrolling ahead, without taking time to consider whether the methods are ethical and allow for fair chase,” Timberlake said. “The hunting community’s standards say that animals must have a fair chance.”
The seven-member Fish and Game Commission isn’t expected to make a decision Thursday. But action is expected before the August meeting, where the commission will set wolf quotas for the next season, said Ed Mitchell, a Fish and Game spokesman.
Idaho’s first public wolf hunt in decades ended on March 31, with 188 wolves killed. Some areas, such as the Lolo zone, had low hunter success rates. Only 13 of the zone’s 27 allowed wolves were taken.
State wildlife managers want to cull the Lolo’s wolf population to protect declining elk herds. Last week, Idaho Fish and Game announced that outfitters would be allowed to kill 20 more wolves in the Lolo zone.
Mitchell said that bait, traps and electronic calls would increase success rates in hard-to-hunt areas.
“It’s not singling wolves out,” he said. “We have for a long time allowed electronic calls for cougars in the Lolo zone.”
Electronic calls simulate the sound of a prey animal, such as a rabbit or elk calf. They’re used to attract predators to the scene.
Idaho hunters can also set up bait stations in the spring to attract bears.
“If there’s going to be a hunt, we’re very concerned about baiting,” said Defenders of Wildlife’s Timberlake.
Baiting carries the risk of habituated wolves – those that associate food smells with people and lose their instinctive fear of humans, he said.
Timberlake also said that traps for wolves would also be a danger for domestic dogs.
The Defenders of Wildlife was one of 14 environmental groups that sued the federal government last year over the decision to take Idaho and Montana wolves off the Endangered Species List.
A hearing date for oral arguments is set for June 15.