CALDWELL, Idaho — Idaho’s first wolf trapping season since the predators lost federal protections this year starts Tuesday, and a trapping supply shop says it’s already boosted revenue.
Jessi Heck, whose family owns Rocky Mountain Fireworks and Fur in a yellow cinder-block building just off U.S. Interstate 84 in Caldwell, says trapping-related sales are up 15 percent this year, as enthusiasts stock up on leg-hold traps and snares capable of capturing a 120-pound wolf.
Meanwhile, the addition of wolf urine to her vast stock of scents inside Rocky Mountain’s “stink room” has brought other, more subtle changes. The dark liquid meant to lure these territorial canines smells so awful, Heck’s employees wait until just before closing to transfer the stuff from gallon jugs into pint bottles that retail for $8.95.
“It’s terrible,” Heck said Friday. “We usually will do it right when we know we have to leave for the day.”
This past week, wildlife advocates went to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Pasadena, Calif., aiming to stop gray wolf hunts that began in Idaho on Aug. 31 and Sept. 3 in Montana.
There’s too much killing, they argue, putting the species’ survival at risk.
But the modern-day mountain men and women who aim to set their trap lines in Idaho’s wintry mountains from Nov. 15 to March 31 contend hunts are hardly putting a dent in a wolf population that many in the state believe is eating too many elk, moose and domestic livestock.
Idaho doesn’t have a quota for hunting and trapping this season, but its Department of Fish and Game says it wants to reduce the roughly 1,000 wolves in the state far closer to the 150-wolf, 15-breeding-pair threshold where the federal government could consider restoring Endangered Species Act protects.
Since Aug. 31, Idaho hunters have shot 114 wolves.
“I don’t think Fish and Game is going to be effective without trapping,” said Dan Davis, a former government trapper and Idaho Trappers Association director. “After the hunt goes on for a while, the wolves are going to get smart and stay out of people’s way.”
In Montana, where no trapping season is planned, hunters have killed about 60 wolves, well shy of the 220 quota.
Only about a quarter of Idaho territory will be open to trapping, primarily in the north-central and northern mountains near the Montana and Canadian borders. Davis’ group is already lobbying the Idaho Fish and Game Commission to open more of the state in January.
Jon Rachael, Idaho’s wolf manager, didn’t immediately return a phone call Friday.
In Alaska, where wolves can also be legally harvested, trappers account for more than half of the roughly 1,500 wolves killed annually, according to Alaska Department of Fish and Game statistics.
But trapping wolves in Idaho will differ significantly from Alaskan and Canadian methods, experts say. In those colder climates, trappers can bury leg-hold traps in the snow, then lure wolves with scents like wolf urine or even skunk paste.
With Idaho’s rain-and-snow cycle, however, such traps can freeze shut just hours after they’re placed.
Davis, whose company manufactures trapping gear in St. Anthony, located west of Yellowstone National Park, recommends Idaho trappers use snares, setting a line of these steel loops along a known wolf trail leading to bait of beaver carcass.
“You can set snares up to kill the animals quite rapidly,” Davis said. “In about five to seven minutes, they’ll be dead.”
Trappers aren’t going to win popularity contests with animal-rights activists, concedes Pat Carney, Idaho Trappers Association president. That’s one reason he lobbied for Idaho to require an eight-hour class for would-be wolf trappers, regardless of whether they have 40 years of trapping experience, like Carney does, or are newcomers.
“Wolves are a hot topic and there’s lot of controversy,” Carney said. “We wanted to make sure anybody who was going to be handling wolves with traps or snares, that they were knowledgeable and doing it correctly.”
State law requires trappers to check their lines every 72 hours, to avoid prolonging the suffering of injured animals. Snares must break away, so elk or moose caught unintentionally can escape. There’s no live bait allowed, and trappers also must set snares and leg holds far enough from official roads and trails, to keep dogs or hunters from stumbling in.
But neither Davis nor Carney expects a huge 2011-‘12 harvest. Wolves travel in remote areas, the snows are likely to be deep and they’re among the smartest animals in the backcountry. Even when trappers think they’ve found a sure-fire wolf trail, they may come up empty-handed.
“Those wolves make big loops,” Carney said. “They may come back every two weeks, every thirty days or in some places, one time in the fall. They may never come back.”