Few wildlife conservation efforts have been as controversial as that of the grey wolf in the Northern Rockies. Federal efforts to protect the wolf have clashed with state efforts to control wolf populations and protect livestock and game from predation by wolf packs.
Idaho and Montana have been given federal authority to manage wolf numbers using public hunts. Federal officials require Idaho to maintain a population of at least 150 wolves and 10 breeding pairs.
Idaho wildlife officials have boosted bag limits, expanded trapping and extended hunting seasons in some areas to help further reduce wolf populations in all corners of the state. Its 10-month wolf season runs until June.
Idaho’s wolf managers estimated 500 to 600 wolves roamed the state as of spring 2012, down from the more than 1,000 when the 2011 hunting season opened in August.
Hunters and trappers killed 364 wolves since the 2011 season opened, while dozens more wolves have died of natural causes or been killed for preying on livestock or targeted as part of a strategy to lessen impacts on specific elk herds in the state.
A federal appeals court in March rejected a lawsuit from conservation groups that wanted to block wolf hunts across the Northern Rockies. The ruling from a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said Congress had the right to intervene when it stripped protections from wolves in spring 2011.
Lawmakers stepped in after court rulings kept wolves on the endangered list for years after they reached recovery goals. Wildlife advocates claimed in their lawsuit that Congress violated the separation of powers by interfering with the courts. But the court said Congress was within its rights, and that lawmakers had appropriately amended the Endangered Species Act to deal with Northern Rockies wolves.
There are more than 1,700 wolves in Montana, Idaho, Wyoming and expanding populations in portions of Eastern Washington and northeastern Oregon. Wolf hunting could resume in Wyoming this fall.
In parts of Montana, ranchers and local officials frustrated with continuing attacks on livestock have proposed bounties for hunters that kill wolves. Montana wildlife officials said they will consider ways to expand hunting after 166 wolves were killed this season, short of the state’s 220-wolf quota.
Wolves once thrived across North America but were exterminated across most of the continental U.S. by the 1930s, through government sponsored poisoning and bounty programs.
Wolves were put on the endangered list in 1974. Over the last two decades, state and federal agencies have spent more than $100 million on wolf restoration programs across the country. There are more than 4,500 of the animals in the upper Great Lakes and a struggling population of several dozen wolves in the Desert Southwest.
Prior lawsuits resulted first in the animals’ reintroduction to the Northern Rockies and then later kept them on the endangered list for a decade after the species reached recovery goal of 300 wolves in three states.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is monitoring the hunts. But agency officials have said they have no plans to intervene because the states have pledged to manage wolves responsibly.
Federal officials have pledged to step in to restore endangered species protections if wolf numbers drop to less than 100 animals in either Montana or Idaho.
Even without hunting, wolves are shot regularly in the region in response to livestock attacks. Since their reintroduction, more than 1,600 wolves have been shot by government wildlife agents or ranchers.
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Latest updates in this topic
Judge to hear arguments in wolf delisting lawsuit
April 27, 2010 in Idaho, Region A federal judge in Missoula will hear oral arguments on June 15 on whether gray wolves in Montana and Idaho should be removed from the list of federally protected species.
Study: Elk more likely to flee humans than wolves
April 20, 2010 in Outdoors, Region Elk respond more strongly to threats from humans than from wolves, and they are more likely to flee for protected refuges if there are hunters in the area, a recent … 6
Field reports: Wallowa anglers net record kokanee
April 11, 2010 in Outdoors on Page C9 FISHING – Northeastern Oregon’s Wallowa Lake is producing state-record kokanee of saltwater proportions. Wan Teece of Enterprise, Ore., caught a 26.25-inch long kokanee weighing 8.23 pounds on March 24.
Wolf hunt season ends with killings shy of limit
April 1, 2010 in Idaho, Outdoors on Page A6 BOISE – Idaho closed the first regulated wolf-hunting season in the lower 48 states Wednesday, and state Fish and Game officials are calling it a success. “I’d be severely disappointed …
First wolf-hunting season a success, official says
March 31, 2010 in Idaho Today, Idaho closes the first regulated wolf-hunting season in the lower 48 states, and state Fish & Game officials are calling it a success. “I’d be severely disappointed if we … 7
Elk reproduction woes tied to wolves
March 27, 2010 in Idaho on Page A1 After hours of watching Yellowstone elk herds through a spotting scope, Scott Creel noticed a few interesting things. When wolves appeared, the elk turned skittish. They spent more time on … 12
Montana wolf kills authorized after miniature horse deaths
Hunting hasn’t slowed wolves
March 21, 2010 in Outdoors on Page C13 At least 1,706 gray wolves in 242 packs and 115 breeding pairs were roaming the Northern Rockies of Idaho, Montana and Wyoming at the end of 2009, according to reports … 7
Wolf stars fade
March 21, 2010 in Outdoors on Page C14 After a somewhat dominating 14-year reign in the northwestern corner of Yellowstone National Park, one of the park’s most-prolific and most-viewed gray wolf packs in the world may have perished. …
Wolf population rose last year in Northern Rockies
Yellowstone wolves decline in ’09
Feb. 21, 2010 in Outdoors on Page C13 PREDATORS – The number of wolves in Yellowstone National Park declined about 23 percent in 2009, a change park biologists say is typical of natural fluctuations for wildlife species. Yellowstone’s …
Feb. 17, 2010 in Idaho, Outdoors on Page A1 AVERY, Idaho – Milt Turley wants to shoot a wolf. He and his wife, Kay, live in close proximity to the shaggy-haired predators. Wolf tracks have appeared on the couple’s … 8
Actual wolf weights often skimpier than hunters estimate
Feb. 17, 2010 in Idaho, Outdoors on Page A1 Rumors of 150-pound wolves abound in the Idaho Panhandle, but most of the wolves taken by hunters are much smaller. Adult females averaged 86 pounds, according to Idaho Department of … 1
Wolves touted as park stewards
Feb. 8, 2010 in City on Page A6 BILLINGS – With ballooning elk and deer populations eating up greenery and altering ecosystems at national parks across the country, a group of researchers is suggesting an unusual solution: Introduce … 1
Idaho closes another wolf hunting area
Wolf toll on livestock increases
Jan. 31, 2010 in Outdoors on Page C11 Gray wolves killed livestock in Montana at the rate of an animal per day in 2009, stirring a backlash against the predators in rural areas and depleting a program that …
Wyoming argues for wolf oversight
Jan. 30, 2010 in City on Page B3 CHEYENNE, Wyo. – The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has no legitimate reason for its refusal to turn over management of gray wolves to the state of Wyoming, the state …
Idaho wolf advocate posts hunters’ names on Web
Tapeworms infect wolf packs
Jan. 20, 2010 in City, Outdoors on Page A5 A Washington State University wildlife researcher said he was “absolutely shocked to see such a high prevalence” of tapeworms found in Rocky Mountain gray wolves. “Some of these wolves had … 2
Cascade wolf sightings increase
Jan. 18, 2010 in City on Page A8 GRANTS PASS, Ore. – Wolves that have moved into Oregon from Idaho appear to be extending their range west, with recent sightings in the southern Cascades and the Ochoco Mountains. … 1