Idaho wolf population stable despite regulatory changes

According to the Idaho Department of Fish and Game (IDFG), gray wolf populations in Gem State are holding up, even after a series of regulatory changes that have dramatically expanded hunting methods and seasons for gray wolves. animals. “What I do know is that human-caused mortality and natural-caused mortality are very similar to what they used to be. [during] previous years,” Idaho Department of Fish and Game Director Ed Schriever told lawmakers during an Oct. 6 meeting.

“I think the best way to describe Idaho’s population right now is that it’s pretty stable,” Schriever said. “[It] fluctuates around 1,250. Idaho officials used artificial intelligence to analyze more than 20 million images taken by 800 game cameras placed across the state to arrive at the population estimate.

In 2021, Idaho lawmakers passed a new law that expands wolf harvesting methods to include trapping and trapping on a single tag. The agency also sanctioned the use of night vision equipment without a license, the use of bait and dogs, hunting from motor vehicles, and the trapping of wolves year-round on private property. Additionally, wildlife officials announced that the state would set aside $200,000 in a highly controversial program to provide reimbursement — or bounties — to hunters and trappers who kill wolves in the state.

Opponents say the new policies could nearly exterminate wolves in Idaho and reduce the population by up to 90%. The regulatory changes prompted the Department of the Interior to launch a review of whether to refer wolves in the Northern Rockies to the Endangered Species Act.

In 2009, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service removed the gray wolf from the endangered species list in Idaho, it set a population goal of about 500 wolves in the state. Currently, the state’s population is more than double the goal. “I think there’s a whole bunch of us who would be happy if we could come up with what’s described in the federal delisting rule as a population fluctuating around 500,” Schriever said.

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But that might prove difficult to do. During the 2021-2022 hunting season, approximately 50,000 hunters and trappers killed 389 wolves. Only 72 hunters and trappers took more than one wolf, and most of them were killed in northern Idaho. “These people are very important in the concept of managing the wolf population,” Schriever said. “The reimbursement program may, in fact, be very important in keeping some of these highly qualified people engaged in [targeting wolves] for a longer period of time.

Denise W. Whigham