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The grey wolf has made a comeback across the Northern Rockies, thanks to federal protection, and Idaho and Montana now allow wolf hunting and trapping to keep the population in check.


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.

Latest updates in this topic

Wolf delisting appears likely as measure joins federal budget bill

ENDANGERED SPECIES — A measure taking gray wolves off federal Endangered Species Act protection made it into the must-pass U.S. Senate budget bill, as explained in a Missoulian story.

Montana Sens. Jon Tester and Max Baucus, both Democrats, placed a rider in the 2011 Appropriations Bill reauthorizing a 2009 U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service rule delisting the gray wolf in the northern Rocky Mountains.

Idaho Republican Rep. Mike Simpson placed identical language in the House version of the budget bill, giving the measure bipartisan momentum. The full budget bill should be voted on late Thursday or Friday.

The move would give Montana and Idaho wildlife agencies management authority over the predator, which would allow the return of public wolf hunting. And it would block any further court action on the FWS rule.

Poll: States Should Handle Wolves

  • Monday Poll: Overwhelmingly, Hucks Nation votes that the states of Idaho and Washington should manage their wolf population. 112 of 178 respondents (62.92%) said states should handle the problem. 37 of 178 respondents (29.79%) would like environmentalists to be in charge of wolf management. 11 (6.18%) want to see the courts decide the matter, while only 6 (3.37%) want Congress to get involved.
  • Today's Poll: Has someone close to you committed suicide?

Wolf compromise attempt blocked by judge

ENDANGERED SPECIES — A federal judge over the weekend blocked a proposal to lift endangered species protections for wolves in Montana and Idaho that had been hammered out by U.S. wildlife officials and conservation groups.

The plan could have led to public hunting of some 1,300 wolves in the two states.

Meanwhile in Congress, the Monana and Idaho delegations are pressing ahead with legislative attempts to get wolves off the endangered list.

Read on for details from the Associated Press.

Idaho lawmakers make Westerners look like wimps, editor says

WILD COMMENTARY — The Idaho Legislature passed “wolf emergency”  bill on to Gov. Butch Otter this week, embarrassing a few folks within the state, including  the editors of the Idaho Mountain Express.

“Westerners are proud of the persistence and bravery of their ancestors. But Westerners today—especially in Idaho—have become weak, whiny and terrified of the Big Bad Wolf.

“With lightning speed this week, the Legislature rammed through a bill that calls on the governor to essentially declare open season on wolves.

The debate on the bill was laughable.”

Read on for the rest of the editorial published this week.

Lawmakers plan to forge ahead on lifting wolf protections

ENDANGERED SPECIES — Although some conservation groups have agreed to settle ongoing litigation over wolf management in the Northern Rockies to keep Congress from acting on legislation to change the Endangered Species Act, Sen. Tester, D-Mont., said he'll press ahead on legislation if congressional action is a faster route to resolution, and Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, said he remains committed to a bill that would exempt wolves from ESA protection, according to a story by the Idaho Statesman.

Cougar, wolf briefly share windfall feast

PREDATORS — An Angus bull that died last month from injuries after fighting with another bull near Missoula attracted the who's who of non-hibernating predators into the unblinking lens of a motion-activated camera.

A lone gray wolf spent just 18 minutes feeding on the carcass above Missoula's South Hills, apparently cowed by the fact that a mountain lion had already claimed the prize — and often slept by its feast.

Click here or read on for the Missoulian's detailed story.

Conservation groups lost political capital in wolf issue

CONSERVATION — The environmental movement is facing serious challenges in the current political and economic climate. 

Considering bills in state legislatures and in Congress, some conservationists believe they've lost considerable political capitol in their tough stance to prolonging endangered species status for the gray wolf int he Northern Rockies.

“But where some see those challenges as symptoms of larger issues - more money in politics or more polarization in Congress - others see a clear need for the environmental movement to change tactics or face serious consequences,” according to the Bozeman Chronicle in a series of stories titled Conservation at a Crossroads.

The paper has taken an insightful look at the state of the regional conservation movement.

More Coverage

Limited Montana wolf kill clears first hurdle

ENDANGERED SPECIES — Just out in an Associted Press story from Billings:  Federal officials today signaled their preliminary support for a plan to kill gray wolves in western Montana that have preyed on big game herds along the Idaho border.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service published a draft environmental review of a Montana proposal to kill 18 of an estimated 30 wolves along the West Fork of the Bitterroot River. That would include the elimination of between one and three packs in the area.

A similar petition from Idaho remains pending.

Read on for the rest of the AP story.

Otter going into wolf talks undecided

ENDANGERED SPECIES — Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter decided against taking a formal stance on a settlement to allow public hunting of wolves in parts of the Northern Rockies as state representatives headed for court hearing in Missoula today.

Otter’s chief lawyer David Hensley says the plan is going before a federal judge, but Otter has decided against taking a formal position.

The settlement is between the Obama administration and 10 conservation groups. The groups, under pressure from Western lawmakers in Congress, agreed give up their fight to keep almost 1,300 wolves on the endangered list in Idaho and Montana.

Although Montana has endorsed the settlement plan as a way to move forward on wolf control, Idaho opted out of the settlement negotiations, and Otter has instead focused on an uncertain “congressional fix” to restore state management of wolves.

Settlement reached on wolf recovery in Idaho, Montana

 ENDANGERED SPECIES — Conservation groups reached a legal settlement today with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that paves the way for gray wolves once again to be removed from endangered species protections in Idaho and Montana.

The settlement was filed for approval with a U.S. Federal District Court in Montana. If approved by the court, the agreement would remove Endangered Species Act protections for gray wolves in Idaho and Montana and return management authority — and the option for controlled hunting —  to those states, while retaining full protection in Washington, Oregon, Wyoming and Utah.

The settlement also will require the Department of the Interior to withdraw a controversial policy memo used to justify not protecting imperiled species throughout their entire range.

Click here to read the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service press release announcing the settlement.

Following is from a joint statement issued by the 10 conservation groups:

“We hope today’s agreement will mark the beginning of a new era of wolf conservation in the Northern Rockies, as well as confirm the success of the Endangered Species Act and this country’s boldest wildlife reintroduction effort in history. The proposed settlement maintains protections in Oregon and Washington where wolves have not yet fully recovered, while allowing for responsible state management in Idaho and Montana.

“In return for allowing the states of Montana and Idaho to manage wolves according to approved conservation plans, the Department of the Interior agrees to conduct rigorous scientific monitoring of wolf populations across the region and an independent scientific review by an expert advisory board after three years. This is a critical safety net to ensure a sustainable wolf population in the region over the long run. The settlement offers a workable solution to the increasingly polarized debate over wolves.

The 10 conservation groups that have agreed to the settlement are Cascadia Wildlands, Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife, Greater Yellowstone Coalition, Hells Canyon Preservation Council, Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance, Natural Resources Defense Council, Oregon Wild, Sierra Club and Wildlands Network.

Revival of wolf hunting would help fund wolf management

HUNTING — My numbers were off in a previous post about the revenue the government loses by not being able to employ controlled hunting for managing wolves in the Northern Rockies.

Idaho took in $470,000 during the 2009-2010 wolf hunting season while Montana took in $325,935.

Court action prevented the planned 2010-2011 season before it started.  Meantime, the government spent $4.6 million on wolf management last year.

Read on for the breakdown of the numbers verified by Idaho Fish and Game.

WA, OR wolves higher profile in annual report

ENDANGERED SPECIES — In past years, Washington and Oregon have been little more than footnotes in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service annual report on western gray wolves in the Northern Rockies.

However, the 2010 report gives the relatively new breeding packs in those states more stature.

Read on for the Washington-Oregon portions of the annual report.

One year of wolf numbers nothing to bank on

ENDANGERED SPECIES — The 2010 annual report on the Northern Rockies gray wolf poplation released this week by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service seems to have given everyone some ammunition.

Overall the wolf population has remained roughly the same. However, while Montana and Wyoming report another year of increases, Idaho reports the first decline — for reasons still not fully explained.

Conservation groups say the 2010 report proves that wolf numbers will naturally stabilize.  Hunting and ranching groups say the numbers verify that wolves are still over-popoulated and taking too big a bite out of big-game herds, which have declined dramatically in some areas.

One number isn't often reported: Federal agencies once again spent about $4.6 million managing wolves in the Northern Rockies last year, and a similar amount is expected to be spent this year.

In 2009, when Montana and Idaho were allowed to hold controlled wolf hunting seasons, wolf populations continued to increase. But at least Idaho was able to collect $470,000 in wolf-tag fees that were applied to wildlife management. Montana took in $325,935.

Wolves will be better off if hunting is allowed in the mix of wolf management options, experts say. And hunters are willing to do the work and pay part of the bill.

Montana wolf numbers up 8 percent in 2010, Idaho’s down 16 percent

ENDANGERED SPECIES — Montana's wolf population increased about 8 percent in 2010 while Idaho's decreased about 16 percent, according to reports released today by state wildlife agencies and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Montana has just announced that at least 566 wolves inhabit the state, according to the 2010 annual wolf conservation and management report released today by Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks. The report  shows Montana's minimum wolf population increased about 8 percent in 2010, compared to a 4 percent increase last year and an 18 percent increase in 2008. The minimun numbers indicate that wolves have increased to 108 verified packs and 35 breeding pairs.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service followed Montana by posting the complete 2010 Northern Rockies wolf update, which includes the census from Idaho and Wyoming.

The report by Idaho Fish and Game biologists documented a minimum of 705 wolves in 87 packs at the end of 2010. In addition, they documented 22 border packs along boundaries with Montana, Wyoming and Washington. Of the 54 Idaho packs known to have reproduced, 46 qualified as breeding pairs by the end of the year. These reproductive packs produced a minimum of 189 pups in 2010.

For 2009, Idaho reported a minimum population of 843 wolves in 94 packs in the state along wtih 20 documented border packs

Idaho's decline is at least partly due to the difficulty of monitoring wolves in remote areas of central Idaho, federal officials said.

Click here for the latest map showing confirmed wolf breeding packs in Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Washington and Wyoming.

“I'm certain we could have successfully reduced the wolf population in 2010 if we could have proceeded with our planned, science-based hunting season,” said FWP Director Joe Maurier. “When you look at our management success in 2009, we had a vigorous wolf population at the end of the year and we were still able to control its growth. It's clear that a management strategy that includes hunting can play an important role in managing wolves in Montana. It is a tool we need and one we're still trying to get back.”

Read on for more details from Montana.

St. Joe elk collared to study impact of wolves

WILDLIFE MANAGEMENT — Idaho Fish and Game biologists have  started a project to attach radio collars on elk in the St. Joe in order to get a better handle on the extent of wolf predation on elk in that area, says Jim Hayden, Panhandle region wildlife manager. 

“To date we have 21 cow elk on the air,” he said.  “Most of these were collared via helicopter last week near Avery.  The remainder were collared using a corral-type trap set up near Calder.  Our hope is to have 25 collared elk per year over the next 4 years. 

“We will be following these elk monthly, mapping seasonal migrations as well as monthly survival.  We did a similar project in the Joe in the late 1990s, giving a solid comparison of how things have changed since then.”


Proposed changes to Idaho's 2011 big-game hunting seasons will be presented in meetings throughout North Idaho this week, starting tonight.  Here's the schedule:

Tonight: Kellogg, Silver Valley Steel Workers Hall, 7 p.m.

Wednesday: Coeur d’Alene, IDFG Panhandle Region office, 7 p.m.

Thursday: Sandpoint,  Bonner County Fairgrounds, 7 p.m.

Saturday:  St. Maries, Eagles,  8 a.m.

Details of proposed changes are available on the Fish and Game website at or from regional Fish and Game offices.

Conservationists boost rewards for bagging poachers in Washington

POACHING – Turning in a poacher in Washington can be rich experience, thanks to a commitment announced minutes ago by Conservation Northwest.

The Bellingham-based group says it’s partnering with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife to boost the reward for people who help Fish and Wildlife police solve cases that involve the illegal killing of rare wildlife.

The reward is being increased from $500 to as much as $7,500 for information that leads to the conviction of anyone who has killed a gray wolf in Washington, and up to $5,000 if a protected grizzly bear, wolverine, lynx or fisher were killed.

The state currently is investigating at least two wolf poaching cases.

In addition, several Oregon groups have pooled funds to offer a $10,000 reward for information that would solve the case of a wolf killed illegally along the Oregon-Washington border in the Blue Mountains.

The fund Conservation Northwest has pledged also will pay up to $3,000 for “egregious violations involving deer or elk, such as spree killing,” said Mitch Friedman, the group's executive director.

Read on for more details.

Washington wolf status uncertain as pupping season looms

ENDANGERED SPECIES — Washington biologists don't have a good handle on the state's fledgling gray wolf population going into the denning season.

Poaching and loss of radio-collared wolves has hindered the monitoring.

Wolves are likely to have another crop of pups in the northeast corner of the state. A breeding pack may be forming in the Blue Mountains.

The biggest unknown is the Methow's Lookout Pack — which 2 1/2 years ago became the state's first known breeding pack in 70 years.

Check out this story by Craig Welch of the Seattle Times for an update.

Wolf poaching in Methow confirmed

ENDANGERED SPECIES — Washington Fish and Wildlife Department officials this week confirmed the killing of an adult male gray wolf, shot in Eastern Washington more than a year ago and dumped in eastern Skagit County.

Investigators believe the wolf was shot somewhere east of Rainy Pass just west of the Methow Valley, according to a Wenatchee World report.

Officials are releasing some information about the incident, hoping the public can help solve the case. Wolves are protected in Washington by state and federal endangered species laws.

The animal was shot and skinned, said Mike Cenci, WDFW deputy chief of enforcement.

State and federal authorities are investigating two other wolf poaching cases, one from 2008 in the same part of northern Washington and a September case in northeastern Oregon.

Cenci said a citizen reported the most recent wolf poaching.

Cenci would not say whether they believe the latest confirmed wolf poaching was from the Lookout Pack, the state’s first documented breeding wolf pack in 70 years. The pack makes its home in the Methow Valley and surrounding hills.

Oregon wolves out in the open

ENDANGERED SPECIES — Blue Mountains elk winter in the low open canyon slopes of Oregon, and the recent-arrival gray wolves figured that out fast.

These wolves made themselves at home on the open slopes in northeastern Oregon near Pendleton, where they've been feeding on elk, according to Dale Denney of Bearpaw Outfitters in Colville.

It's an exciting sight for some and an enraging sight for others.

Either way you look at it, it's humbling to watch this 40-second video clip of two wolves taking down an elk.

Montana surveying right-wing boundaries

OUTDOOR POLITICS — Two Associated Press news stories this week out of the Montana Legislature give sportsmen reason to pause and wonder if these are the healthiest approaches to the issues.

  1. Republicans enthused by Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer’s recent tough talk on wolves are getting closer to using an ancient “nullification” doctrine to disregard the federal law protecting endangered and threatened species — a plan that even the governor quickly dismissed as “off base.”
  2. The Montana House voted 55-45 to approve a gun rights bill that would allow people to carry concealed weapons in urban areas without a permit. House Bill 271 would allow anyone eligible for a concealed weapon permit to carry without actually applying for a permit. Law enforcement officials are very concerned. Concealed carry is already allowed in rural areas without a permit.