Idaho proposes wolf reduction program
by Idaho Fish & Game Department
August 25, 2010
The Idaho Department of Fish and Game is seeking public comments on a proposal to reduce the wolf population in part of the Clearwater drainage.
The proposal calls for reducing the population of wolves in two big game management units that make up the Lolo elk management zone. Wolf numbers would be kept at about 20 to 30 wolves for five years, while the elk and wolf populations are monitored. That amounts to removing about seven percent of the estimated minimum of 835 wolves in the state at the end of 2009.
This wolf reduction proposal is for one elk zone out of the 29 zones that Idaho Fish and Game manages. The proposal is being pursued in an attempt to control wolf predation on elk in the Lolo zone because of unacceptable impacts on the elk population by a wolf population that has recovered biologically.
As long as wolves south of Interstate 90 in Idaho remain on the endangered species list they are managed under section 10(j) of the Endangered Species Act. Simply put, the rule, revised in 2008, would allow Idaho to use lethal controls on wolves that are having unacceptable impacts on the elk population.
In the Lolo zone, elk numbers have been declining over the past three decades as a result of a combination of degraded habitat, natural mortality nd predation. Recent research shows that wolf predation now has pushed the decline to about 15 percent annually, and is keeping the elk population down.
More than 140 adult female elk in the Lolo Zone have been radio-collared since 2002. More than half of the animals that died were killed by wolves, Deputy Director Jim Unsworth said. In addition, 86 six-month old elk calves have been radio-collared since December 2005. Sixty-five percent of the elk calves that died in the winter were killed by wolves. Adult female mortality and calf mortality are key factors that affect overall elk population trends.
The reduction in wolf numbers in the Lolo zone would not affect overall wolf recovery efforts, Unsworth said. But it may help increase elk numbers.
Idaho Fish and Game would prefer to let hunters help manage the wolf population. But until the wolves are delisted and turned over to state management, Idaho has decided to pursue the best option available under the Endangered Species Act.
The state has prepared a science-based proposal that details the problem and shows the role of wolves and why their removal is warranted. The proposal has been reviewed by recognized experts, and will be available for public comment for 14 days.
Once public comments have been reviewed, the proposal would be submitted to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for final approval.