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
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
Idaho commission approves wolf hunt rules, dates
Area wolf poaching case to trial in September
July 24, 2011 in Outdoors on Page C9 The case of a Methow Valley ranch family accused of killing protected wolves and smuggling their hides out of the country is set for federal trial in Spokane this fall. … 2
Idaho wolf hunting plan: No limit
July 8, 2011 in Idaho, Outdoors, Region Idaho is planning a fall wolf hunt with no overall limit - and no limits in four zones, the Panhandle, Lolo, Selway and Middle Fork zones - because of “documented … 16
Wolf’s delisting could imperil other species
June 27, 2011 in Nation/World on Page A1 WASHINGTON – The Endangered Species Act has long had its foes, particularly in the West. But in recent months, the law has taken an unprecedented hit from Congress. Republicans, led … 18
Three indicted on charges in endangered wolf deaths
June 9, 2011 in City, Idaho on Page A5 A federal grand jury has indicted a Twisp, Wash., man for illegally killing two wolves near his property and trying to ship one of the pelts to Canada. After Tom …
Eye on Boise: Six receive state Medal of Honor
Aerial killing of wolves called off
May 15, 2011 in City on Page B3 LEWISTON – Aerial gunners in a helicopter have killed at least five wolves in north-central Idaho since Wednesday in an effort to protect elk herds, but the hunting has been …
Wolf protections lifted; Idaho, Montana plan hunts this fall
May 5, 2011 in Idaho, Outdoors on Page A5 The Obama administration on Wednesday moved to lift Endangered Species Act protections for 5,500 gray wolves in the Northern Rockies and Great Lakes, drawing the line on the predators’ rapid … 1
Gray wolves go back to state control
May 4, 2011 in Idaho, Region The Obama administration today announced it is lifting endangered species act protections for 5,500 gray wolves in eight states in the Northern Rockies and Great Lakes. 14
Bangs retiring after leading wolf recovery
April 28, 2011 in City, Idaho on Page A6 HELENA – Ed Bangs, who for 23 years led the effort to reintroduce and recover healthy wolf populations in the northern Rocky Mountains, is retiring from the U.S. Fish and … 1
Despite reservations, Otter signs wolf measure
Otter signs wolf disaster bill into law
Otter, officials to discuss wolf hunt
April 17, 2011 in City, Idaho on Page B3 LEWISTON – Officials with the Idaho Department of Fish and Game plan to meet with Gov. Butch Otter on Monday to discuss a public wolf hunting season. “We will be … 2
Budget rider gives states wolf control
April 15, 2011 in Idaho, Outdoors on Page A1 Gray wolves in most of the Northern Rockies will be removed from the endangered species list under a policy rider attached to Congress’ budget bill. The rider returns wolf management … 22