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
Field reports: Wolverines, wolves, trout
Feb. 20, 2011 in Outdoors on Page C11 WILDLIFE – Researchers studying wolverines in the North Cascades have new hopes pinned on their latest catch – Mattie. The young female may be pregnant, and if she is, she …
Cattlemen sue feds over region’s wolves
Feb. 16, 2011 in Idaho, News, Outdoors, Region Washington Cattlemen’s Association has filed a lawsuit in Eastern Washington that challenges the wolf’s endangered status throughout the Northern Rockies.
Lawmaker’s plan would let wolf kills go unpunished
Former Idaho candidate urges residents to kill wolves
Idaho panel suspends wolf management
Wolf talks at impasse, Schweitzer says
Dec. 7, 2010 in Idaho, Region on Page A5 BILLINGS – Montana’s governor said negotiations to remove gray wolves from the endangered species list have hit an impasse after Wyoming and Idaho refused to go along with an Interior …
State, federal leaders continue wolf talks
Dec. 3, 2010 in City, Idaho on Page A12 BILLINGS – Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and governors from three Northern Rockies states resumed negotiations Thursday to remove the region’s wolves from the endangered list, but reached no conclusions. Western …
Wolf negotiations resume, but no consensus
Dec. 2, 2010 in Region Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and governors from three Northern Rockies states resumed negotiations today to remove the region’s wolves from the endangered list, but reached no conclusions. 1
Landers: Audacious wolves add spice to Inland Northwest life
Dec. 2, 2010 in Outdoors on Page B1 Grizzlies and cougars can get our attention, but wolves are the all-stars of whipping up human emotions. To see them or even just to hear their howling can freeze us …
Salazar, states discuss wolf management
Nov. 30, 2010 in Idaho on Page A6 After years of legal wrangling over wolf management, the Obama administration and the governors of Idaho, Montana and Wyoming on Monday discussed crafting an end-game – including whether Congress should …
Governors meet with Salazar on wolf management
Nov. 29, 2010 in Idaho, Region After years of legal wrangling over wolf management, the Obama administration and the governors of Idaho, Montana and Wyoming on Monday discussed crafting an end-game - including whether Congress should … 3
Run-in with wolves puts nature in new perspective
Nov. 29, 2010 in City, Idaho, Outdoors on Page A6 A North Idaho woman said she was confronted by at least four wolves between Tensed and Plummer as she walked alone up her rural driveway at dusk on Saturday. The … 71
North Idaho sheriff denies raffle targets wolves
Nov. 28, 2010 in City on Page B7 GRANGEVILLE, Idaho – A northern Idaho sheriff said he is not advocating the illegal shooting of federally protected wolves by offering a hunting rifle and a shovel as the prize … 3
Chances slim for wolf bills in this Congress
Nov. 22, 2010 in City, Idaho on Page A6 BILLINGS – Lawmakers from the Northern Rockies say pending bills aimed at getting gray wolves off the endangered species list have little chance of passage this year. A time crunch, … 1
Feds delay decision on Idaho wolf killing
Montana elk hunters shoot wolf
Pend Oreille wolf pack likely won’t stay as large
Oct. 29, 2010 in Idaho on Page A6 A wolf pack with a dozen members has been spotted in northern Pend Oreille County, a state wildlife biologist confirmed. The pack, one of three confirmed in Washington state, consists …
Gridlock on wolves alienates key allies
Oct. 28, 2010 in Idaho on Page A1 An impasse over wolf management in the Northern Rockies is alienating hunters and ranchers, groups whose support is crucial to the canny predators’ long-term success in the region, experts say. … 28
Allred wants to retain state control of wolves
Oct. 22, 2010 in Idaho on Page A6 BOISE – Keith Allred, Democratic candidate for governor of Idaho, announced Thursday that he opposes Gov. Butch Otter’s decision to pull Idaho out of wolf management, and that if elected, …
Idaho pulling back on wolves
Oct. 19, 2010 in Idaho on Page A1 Idaho Gov. Butch Otter ordered state wildlife managers Monday to stop arresting poachers and investigating illegal killings of wolves, saying the state is getting out of wolf management. Without the … 6