Twenty wolves were shot from a helicopter in northern Idaho in the past week, part of a wolf-control operation designed to improve elk survival in the area.
That’s on top of 20 more wolves killed by hunters and trappers in the Lolo elk zone over the past year, according to the Idaho Department of Fish and Game. That zone straddles the county line of Clearwater and Idaho counties.
The helicopter hunt is the operation the Idaho Wolf Depredation Control Board was trying to keep secret on Monday when the board had its budget hearing before the Legislature’s joint budget committee. At that time, a representative 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 money from the Fish and Game Department and from the livestock industry.
“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 agency said in a statement. “The Lolo zone is steep, rugged country that is difficult to access, especially in winter,” necessitating the use of the helicopter, the statement said.
It added, “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 dramatically 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.
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