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
Wolf protection ends in Midwest
Dec. 22, 2011 in Nation/World, Outdoors on Page A8 ATLANTA, Mich. – After devoting four decades and tens of millions of dollars to saving the gray wolf, the federal government wants to get out of the wolf-protection business, leaving …
Field reports: State Parks staff to be cut 30 percent
Dec. 11, 2011 in Outdoors on Page C11 PUBLIC LANDS – Nearly a third of Washington’s year-round state parks staffers are being notified this week they likely will be laid off as a result of lagging sales of …
White House moves to clarify endangered species listings
Dec. 9, 2011 in Idaho, Outdoors, Region The Obama administration proposed a new rule today that would end a practice in which some endangered species were classified differently in neighboring states. 3
Panel approves proposed wolf plan
Dec. 4, 2011 in City, Outdoors on Page B3 OLYMPIA – The Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission on Saturday approved a proposed plan for managing gray wolves, a decision sure to spark criticism from hunting and livestock groups that … 1
Commission will consider wolf proposal next weekend
Nov. 27, 2011 in Outdoors on Page C12 After four years of development, extensive public review – and lingering controversy – the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission will consider adopting a plan for managing wolves as they re-establish … 6
Idaho wolf trapping season opens Tuesday
Nov. 13, 2011 in Outdoors on Page C12 The first wolf trapping season since the predators were reintroduced to the Rocky Mountains will open in selected areas in the north half of Idaho on Tuesday. Demand is high …
Idaho wolf trapping season starts next week
Nov. 11, 2011 in Idaho, Outdoors 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. 4
Wolf hunts get court hearing
Nov. 9, 2011 in City, Outdoors on Page A13 PASADENA, Calif. – Wildlife advocates appeared in federal court Tuesday seeking to stop gray wolf hunts that are already well under way in the Northern Rockies, arguing that Congress overstepped …
Panel considers wolf plan
Nov. 4, 2011 in City, Outdoors on Page A5 Washington is already home to five packs of gray wolves, and state wildlife managers are planning for more. On Thursday, the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission deliberated on a wolf … 6
State’s wolf plan meeting today
Nov. 3, 2011 in City, Outdoors on Page A8 As Washington Fish and Wildlife officials are slashing budgets for existing programs, they’re meeting in Spokane today to deal with yet another new challenge – wolves. The state Fish and … 5
Yellowstone wolf skeletons studied
Oct. 16, 2011 in Outdoors, Region on Page B3 BILLINGS – Yellowstone National Park wolves tend to be healthier than wolves in other areas, based on an examination of about 160 of their skeletons over the last three years, … 1
Washington groups petition to strip protections from wolves
Oct. 5, 2011 in City ELLENSBURG, Wash. (AP) — Two groups have filed a petition with the Washington state Department of Fish and Wildlife to strip endangered species protections from gray wolves in the eastern …
Field reports: Columbia refuge mulls camping, hunting changes
Oct. 2, 2011 in Outdoors on Page C11 OUTPLAN – The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is preparing a new management plan for the Columbia National Wildlife Refuge, which could mean changes for campers, hunters and anglers. The …
Idaho targets wolves
Sept. 15, 2011 in Outdoors on Page K10 An archery hunter near Bozeman killed the first wolf to be harvested in the gray wolf hunting seasons that opened in Montana earlier this month. And at least 10 gray … 1
Captive wolf on the lam
Montana begins wolf hunt season
Sept. 4, 2011 in Region on Page B7 BILLINGS – Gray wolf hunts are under way in Montana and Idaho as state officials seek to sharply reduce the predator’s numbers in hopes of curbing attacks on livestock and …
Federal poaching trial rescheduled
Sept. 1, 2011 in Idaho on Page A12 The federal trial for a Methow Valley ranch family accused of killing protected wolves and trying to smuggle pelts out of the country has been rescheduled to Jan. 30. The …
Landers: Idaho wolf tag sales lagging, so far
Sept. 1, 2011 in Outdoors, Sports on Page B1 Idaho wolf tag purchases are barely better than home sales. Maybe it’s the economy or the recent lawsuits that threatened to stall the hunting season again, but wolf permits are … 1
Groups ask court to halt wolf hunts
Aug. 14, 2011 in City, Idaho, Outdoors on Page B3 BOISE – Environmentalists have asked a federal appeals court for an emergency injunction to halt wolf hunts scheduled to start in a few weeks in Idaho and Montana. The request … 1
Idaho panel sets wolf hunting season, quotas
July 29, 2011 in Idaho The Idaho Fish and Game Commission adopted a 10-month-long wolf hunting season in the upper Clearwater River basin Thursday and also increased the trapping season beyond what was recommended by … 2