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
Wildlife Services wolf control challenged
Five environmental groups file suit on March 3, 2015, to challenge Wildlife Services’ authority to kill wolves in Washington.
Effects of Wolf Mortality on Livestock Depredation
A Washington State University study sheds light on what happens to livestock when wolves are shot near them.
Stevens County on right to kill wolves
Stevens County Commissioners adopted a resolution on Aug. 29, 2014, advising citizens of their “constitutional right” to kill wolves under some circumstances. Washington Fish and Wildlife officials disagreed with the …
State responds to Stevens County advice on killing wolves
Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife Director Phillip Anderson officially responds to an Aug. 29, 2014, Stevens County Commissioner resolution advising citizens of their “constitutional right” to kill wolves under …
Stevens County condems wolf management
Stevens County Commissioners unanimously approved this resolution on Sept. 17, 2014, condemning the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife management of gray wolves.
Huckleberry wolf pack conflict to 8-28-14
This chronology follows Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife actions through Aug. 28, 2014, involved with the Huckleberry wolf pack, which started attacking sheep in Stevens County in mid-August 2014.
Legislators request lethal wolf control
Ten Washington lawmakers from both parties and both houses of the 2013 Washington Legisature asked the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission on April 23, 2013, to give landowers the limited …
Montana wolf report Aug 3 2012
Montana issues a weekly wolf management activity report. By the first week of August, as this report details, the state had killed 65 wolves in 2012 because they had threatened …
Idaho Gov. Butch Otter’s letter to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar re terminating Idaho’s status as “designated agent” for wolf management
Wolf management plan draft
The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife released a draft of its wolf management plan Oct. 6 and announced meetings statewide to receive public input. Comments also can be filed …
Federal court ruling on wolf hunting
A federal judge said Sept. 9 that gray wolf hunts can go on for the first time in decades in the Northern Rockies, just months after the animals were removed …
Idaho response brief
Idaho’s legal brief defending its plan for a wolf-hunting season