Wolf pups from the Chilco pack were just a few weeks old when they were taken from their den on the Idaho Panhandle National Forests and killed by poachers.
“They barely had their eyes open and they would have had no way of defending themselves,” said Suzanne Asha Stone, the Defenders of Wildlife’s Northwest regional representative in Boise.
More than $16,000 has been offered for information leading to arrests and convictions in the case. Since the incident remains an active investigation, few details are being released about the poaching, which is believed to have occurred during the week of May 16 in the Sage Creek drainage about 15 miles north of Coeur d’Alene. The den was near a heavily used recreation area.
But the poaching incident illustrates an irony in Idaho’s wildlife regulations, Stone said.
If the den had been located on private land instead of in the national forest, the young pups could have been legally hunted. A single hunter with five wolf tags could have legally shot five pups from the pack.
Many private lands in North Idaho and the north-central part of the state have year-round wolf seasons, with no restrictions on killing pups. Idaho Department of Fish and Game officials said allowing year-round hunting with no age limits helps private landowners address wolf-livestock conflicts and wolves that get habituated to people and start hanging around dwellings.
Defenders of Wildlife has lobbied for changes to protect pups in dens on private lands. Stone said the organization is raising the issue again this year as Idaho prepares to adopt a new plan for managing the state’s estimated 800 wolves.
Wolf pups are born around May 1 and spend their early lives close to the den. Young animals are particularly vulnerable to hunting and trapping, which is why most seasons for game animals don’t start until fall, Stone said. Later seasons give newborns a few months to mature, increasing the “fair chase” ethic between hunter and prey, she said.
“If you’re talking about fair chase, then wolf pups should not be hunted. Ever.” Stone said. “I think most people would agree that you don’t allow babies of any wildlife to be killed when they’re so indefensible.”
The issue of taking pups on private lands will be up for discussion and review in the wolf management plan, which is scheduled for release in early December, said Jim Hayden, Idaho Fish and Game’s staff biologist for wolves, bears and cougars.
Killing pups is a sensitive issue for many people, who equate wolves with their pet dogs, he said. “There’s a lot of national attention on issues like this,” Hayden said.
However, Hayden said very few wolves get killed on private lands during April through June. A three-year review didn’t turn up any records of pups being taken on private lands during that time, he said.
If private landowners kill wolves on their property, they have to apply a wolf tag to the carcass and call Fish and Game within 72 hours, said Jon Rachael, state game manager. They must present either the skull or the pelt to Fish and Game, which allows the agency to estimate the animal’s age, he said.
Idaho’s wolf hunt on public lands begins in August. Since wolf pups grow so quickly, many are indistinguishable from adults by October, Hayden said.
To Stone, even August seems early for a public wolf hunt.
“They really can’t avoid hunters when they’re only 4 or 5 months old,” she said. “They aren’t wise or strong or wary enough.”
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