Idaho Fish & Game announced today that 20 wolves were shot from a helicopter in the Lolo elk zone in northern Idaho, in an operation that wrapped up today. The operation started last week, according to Fish & Game, which said it was designed to improve elk survival in the area.
“Fish and Game prefers to manage wolf populations using hunters and trappers and only authorizes control actions where regulated harvest has been insufficient to meet management goals,” the announcement said. “The Lolo zone is steep, rugged country that is difficult to access, especially in winter. To date, hunters and trappers have taken 20 wolves in the Lolo zone during the 2015-2016 season. The trapping season ends March 31 and the hunting season ends June 30.”
The agency said the Lolo elk population has declined drastically over the last 25 years, from 16,000 elk to fewer than 1,000 today. It has conducted aerial wolf-kills in the Lolo zone for the past five years; in 2014, 19 wolves were killed; in 2013, the tally was 23. “The overall objective is to maintain a smaller, but self-sustaining wolf population in the Lolo zone in order to allow the elk population to recover,” Fish & Game said; you can read the full announcement here.
This is the operation that the Idaho Wolf Depredation Control Board was trying to keep secret on Monday when the board had its budget hearing before the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee, but wouldn't answer questions about wolves killed so far in 2016. The board receives $400,000 a year in state tax funds to target problem wolves that prey on livestock or wildlife; it also receives funds from Fish & Game and from the livestock industry.