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
Officials look into gray wolf killing
March 28, 2009 in City, Outdoors on Page B3 SEATTLE – Washington state and federal wildlife officers are investigating the illegal killing of a protected gray wolf in Okanogan County in north-central Washington. The investigation began when a shipper …
Gray wolf population strong
March 18, 2009 in City on Page A8 BILLINGS – Federal officials say a record 1,645 gray wolves counted in the Northern Rockies this winter shows the predators’ population remains strong, but is no longer expanding as rapidly …
Salazar challenged over wolf delisting
March 15, 2009 in City on Page A1 WASHINGTON – Interior Secretary Ken Salazar’s decision to stick with a controversial Bush administration move that took gray wolves off the endangered species list in most of the Northern Rockies …
Residents warned of pack of 10 wolves
Idaho proposing shorter elk-hunting season
March 11, 2009 in Idaho, Outdoors on Page A5 Hunters might have fewer chances to bag an elk in the Idaho Panhandle next fall. Wildlife managers are proposing shorter hunting seasons to allow elk herds to recover from the …
Idaho readies for hunt as feds drop wolves from endangered list
March 7, 2009 in Idaho on Page A1 Idaho is preparing for its first public wolf hunt in decades, following Interior Secretary Ken Salazar’s decision Friday to remove the elusive predator from the endangered-species list in the Northern … 1
In brief: Bill declares surplus of wolves in Idaho
Feb. 3, 2009 in City on Page A5 Idaho would declare a surplus of wolves and offer the extras to any state that wants them under legislation that unanimously cleared the Senate Resources Committee on Monday. “We can …
NIC hosting film, discussion on wolves
Feb. 3, 2009 in City on Page A7 “An Evening with Wolves” features a presentation of an award-winning film titled “Wolves,” narrated by Robbie Robertson, and a panel discussion by local residents. The free event will be from …
State seeks to kill North Idaho wolves
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Gray wolf leaves its mark throughout the Northwest
Wolf kills at all-time high in ’08
Dec. 15, 2008 in City on Page A8 BILLINGS – Record numbers of endangered gray wolves were shot this year by government wildlife agents and ranchers in the Northern Rockies, as the predator’s attacks on livestock met with …
Wolves targeted despite hunt ban
Dec. 7, 2008 in Outdoors on Page T2 A court order that restored endangered status to the region’s gray wolves has put proposed wolf-hunting seasons on the back burner, but government guns are being called in to help …
Gray wolves are state residents
July 18, 2008 in City on Page A1 The body of a gray wolf found last month near Tum Tum in Stevens County is the first physical proof that the species has returned to Washington, state wildlife officials …
Wolf gets fresh start as managed species
April 6, 2008 in Outdoors on Page T1 The reintroduction of gray wolves to the northern Rockies has been officially declared a success. They were removed from the federal Endangered Species list on March 28, transferring most wolf …
Big snowfall brings out wolves
Critter watch: From wolves to whales, region’s wildlife on the move
Stevens County fears wolf cost
Sheep rancher learns to keep the wolves at bay
Aug. 12, 2007 in Idaho on Page B7 KETCHUM, Idaho – It’s about as thickly populated by wolves as anywhere in the region, but environmentally conscious sheep producer Lava Lake Land & Livestock is developing a track record …
Field Reports: Wolf management meeting in Spokane
Aug. 12, 2007 in Outdoors on Page T2 Citizens can comment on gray wolf management in Washington during public meetings at seven towns across the state, including Spokane. The wolves are federally protected as endangered species, but their …