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Opinion >  Editorial

Editorial: Idaho needs to remember its pledge on wolves

Last September, when Idaho game officials opened the state’s first wolf hunting season, many conservationists feared a slaughter.

Hardly.

A week ago, as the season entered its last month, hunters had bagged only 162 wolves, 58 short of the allowed 220, and now the director of the Department of Fish and Game is saying more aggressive wolf management is needed. But Cal Groen’s commentary on the department’s Web site didn’t include details necessary to evaluate his idea.

Before Idaho authorized a hunting season, game officials made a solid case that the number and composition of wolves roaming Idaho could be thinned without dropping below the population numbers necessary to sustain the legendary predators. After all, it was only because of the solid success of a reintroduction plan launched in the 1990s that federal authorities took the gray wolf off the Endangered Species List and turned management over to the states.

While wolf advocates will debate the government managers’ conclusions about sustainability of the current wolf population and the advisability of a hunting season, at least it was agreed that restoration of the species was a mandatory consideration. The wolves’ numbers were essential to the policy making.

But Groen’s Web post concentrated instead on the elks’ numbers, specifically the elk herd in the Lolo management zone where wolf hunters have had the least success. As of March 1, six of the 12 management zones have been closed because their quotas were reached and another was only one wolf kill away from reaching its bag limit. In the Lolo zone, only 11 of 27 allowable kills had been recorded.

Groen traces the rise and fall of the Lolo herd and the toll taken by winters, wildfires and wolves. He concedes that even with fewer wolves, elk populations are unlikely to return to the bounteous levels of the 1980s.

And he also pledges that whatever changes wildlife managers propose to the Fish and Game Commission, probably next week, will comply with the existing wolf management plan.

Still, he depicted declining elk populations as the problem and wolves as the cause.

If the solution requires boosting the target harvest above the 220 wolves now allowed, it would pose doubts about the state’s commitment to maintaining a sustainable wolf population.

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