LEWISTON – More wolves need to be killed in the Lolo area of the Clearwater River basin to stop the decline in elk populations, the director of Idaho Fish and Game says.
Cal Groen said state wildlife managers will recommend significant changes to wolf seasons in the Lolo and other zones where elk numbers are not at management levels.
Groen said management tools could include increased harvest limits, multiple tags, trapping, and asking outfitters to help reduce wolf numbers.
Dave Cadwallader, supervisor of the department’s Clearwater Region, said the changes could be put in place next fall.
Groen said eight of the state’s 29 elk hunting zones are below the department’s population objectives. He said five of those have significant wolf populations, including the Lolo, Selway and Sawtooth zones.
Elk numbers in the Lolo Zone peaked in the 1980s with a population of about 16,000. Biologists attribute the large herds to open fields created by large wildfires in the early part of the 20th century.
But the open fields began filling with brush and young trees, reducing elk habitat and causing elk numbers to decline and then plunge after the severe winter of 1996-1997.
Fish and Game responded by restricting elk hunting and allowing more bears and mountain lions to be killed, which Groen said caused elk numbers to pick up.
“Then wolves took over and became the leading cause of Lolo elk deaths,” Groen said. “It wasn’t until May of last year the state could finally manage wolves. By then, the balance of elk and wolves in the Lolo Zone was completely out of whack.”
The agency set a harvest limit of 27 wolves in the Lolo Zone and 17 in the Selway. But through Friday, 11 wolves in the Lolo Zone had been killed by hunters and seven in the Selway.
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