LEWISTON – Aerial gunners in a helicopter have killed at least five wolves in north-central Idaho since Wednesday in an effort to protect elk herds, but the hunting has been halted because it hasn’t been as successful as expected, an Idaho Department of Fish and Game official says.
Deputy Director Jim Unsworth said agents with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services suspended the hunt indefinitely Friday because it was inefficient and expensive. He said some wolf packs are being found by radio collars worn by individuals but the wolves are in thick timber, making them difficult to shoot from the air.
“The elk and deer are on green-up down low and the wolves are there with them,” he told the Lewiston Tribune. “They are in that lower-elevation, big-timber kind of stuff. We can find the packs, but you can’t find the wolves to do anything from a control standpoint.”
State officials want to kill up to 60 wolves in the region, leaving about 20 or 30, in the wake of the Obama administration removing the predators from Endangered Species Act protections.
With the aerial gunning from a helicopter having less success than officials hoped, Unsworth said hunting outfitters and their guides in the Lolo Zone have been authorized to shoot wolves during the spring bear hunting season.
Estimates put Idaho’s wolf population at 705, but officials with Fish and Game said the number after this year’s litter of pups may exceed 1,000.
The Idaho Fish and Game Commission is expected to approve a fall wolf hunting season throughout the state, and Unsworth said the commission is also likely to approve trapping. He said officials might try aerial hunting again after the fall hunt.
“The reality is it’s going to be a long-term effort and we are going to have to use a combination of methods including the control effort and trapping to meet the 20 to 30 goal,” he said. “Some folks think you just show up and take whatever you want when using a helicopter and that is just not the case.”