Idaho’s upcoming wolf hunt will be managed like other big game seasons, with no statewide quota on the number of wolves that can be killed, state officials said Friday.
About 1,000 wolves inhabit the state’s forests and grasslands. Wildlife managers said they want to reduce that number to relieve “social and biological” conflicts from wolf predation on elk herds and livestock.
Idaho Fish and Game is still trying to determine the right number of wolves for the state, said Virgil Moore, the agency’s director. Although that figure hasn’t been established, “we’re going to stay far north” of the federal minimum requirement of 150 wolves and 15 breeding pairs statewide, Moore said.
Idaho’s proposed wolf hunt is similar to seasons for cougars and black bears, which don’t have quotas, either, Moore said. Hunting and trapping the elusive predators won’t send the populations back into the danger zone, he added.
Wolves are challenging to hunt, wildlife managers said. Less than 1 percent of hunters who bought wolf tags during Idaho’s last public hunt shot one. The statewide take was 188.
“Seeing wolf tracks or scat, hearing wolves howl or even catching fleeting glimpses of wolves is not the same thing as seeing a wolf and having the opportunity to take it during hunting season,” said Jon Rachael, the state’s big-game manager.
On Friday, managers outlined plans for the upcoming hunt, which will be finalized July 27 and 28 at the Fish and Game Commission’s meeting in Salmon.
Hunters could buy two wolf tags per calendar year for the Aug. 30 to March 31 season. Use of electronic calls would be allowed.
A proposed 10-week trapping season is being added in parts of the state, including the Panhandle. The December through mid-February trapping season would have an annual bag limit of five wolves.
Fish and Game officials will be monitoring the rates of wolf kills, which must be reported within 72 hours. Moore said the season could close early if the harvest levels exceed expectations.
In January, the Panhandle’s wolf population was estimated at 120, said Jim Hayden, regional wildlife manager. At least 27 wolves would have to be killed to keep the population in check, he said.
Hayden said the Panhandle’s elk herds haven’t been as hard-hit by wolf predation as herds in the Lolo area. However, elk calf mortality is on the upswing in the drainages of the St. Joe River and Little North Fork of the Clearwater. Elk herds in those units are declining by about 15 percent each year, Hayden said.
Even with the liberalized hunting seasons, Moore said that the state will probably need to use wildlife agents to cull Idaho’s wolf packs. Aerial hunting by authorized agents is the most effective way to kill wolves that prey on livestock, he said.
Defenders of Wildlife was pleased that the state didn’t include aerial hunting or use of snowmobiles in its public hunting proposal, said Suzanne Stone, the organization’s Northern Rockies representative. But the lack of a statewide wolf quota concerns her.
“Their claim is there are no quotas for mountain lions and bears. The difference is that you have far fewer wolves,” Stone said. “There are 3,000 mountain lions in Idaho, 20,000 black bear and 100,000 elk.”
Wolves play a beneficial role in the ecosystem, she said, culling diseased deer and elk from herds and preventing them from overgrazing streamside vegetation. Biological studies indicate that the Northern Rockies region needs several thousand wolves for the species to fulfill its ecosystem role and to allow for a diverse gene pool, Stone said.
“Wolves play a very valuable role in nature, and I think that is what’s being overlooked in this rush to reduce their numbers to such low levels,” Stone said.
Idaho Fish and Game is launching a survey about the proposed wolf hunt. It will be available next week at fishandgame.idaho.gov/.