At the budget hearing this morning on Idaho’s Wolf Depredation Control Board, to which lawmakers have been allocating $400,000 a year in state funds for the past three years to contract to have problem wolves killed, the board reported that its cost per wolf killed has been dropping. “In fiscal year ’16, the cost per wolf removal was $9,005 dollars per wolf,” board member Carl Rey told the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee. “In ’17, it was $8,003 dollars per wolf so far.”
Rey said those figures do include some other costs besides direct wolf-killing, including collaring of wolves – which can cost $2,000 per collared wolf – to monitor the population. Plus, he said, “Our contract with Wildlife Services requires that they perform investigations and determinations. So they respond to all complaints from livestock producers. In so doing, approximately 15 percent of those investigations result in a finding that it was not a wolf that in fact was the problem. And another 15 percent result in the fact that it was a probable or only a maybe that it was a wolf that was the causal factor in the problem. So when you look at those statistics, it’s important that you realize that that conflict management at the producer level between Wildlife Services, our board, and the producer has a huge value on it.”
Rey said the board has spent $232,098 so far this year, all to protect livestock. “Of course there will be further activity in the Lolo Zone, primarily to protect wild ungulates from excessive depredation,” he said. “So there is work ahead of us in this fiscal year.”
The wolf board, which receives some funds from sportsmen fees and the livestock industry in addition to its $400,000 annual appropriation from state general funds, has been building up a big fund balance – so big that it could spend up to $1.1 million this year if it needed to. Rey said, “Were we to enter into a year when we had acute depredation issues, we could spend that money. … We think that we’re, in the near future, in for some really bad years.” That’s because of likely high winter kill of deer and elk this year, he said. “We think wolves are going to go into the spring and have really high pup success.”
There are about 750 wolves in Idaho now, Rey told JFAC, with about 105 packs. Pack sizes have dropped since the board was created in 2014, he said, from an average of 8.2 wolves per pack to 6.4. About 330 wolves are harvested each year in Idaho, he said, including 250 through sport hunting and trapping and about 80 through the board’s contract with USDA Wildlife Services. “It seems to be stabilizing that population,” he said.
The board is requesting another $400,000 in state funding next year; Gov. Butch Otter has recommended the funding.