Jan. 23–BOISE — Although Idaho’s wolf population is dropping, data show there are enough wolves to maintain state management of the population, state Fish and Game officials said Thursday.
The state’s count of wolves likely is lower than the actual number because packs in remote areas can be hard to document, said Jim Hayden, staff biologist for the state Department of Fish and Game.
The count of 550 to 750 wolves in 2014 is substantially higher than the 150 that Idaho is required to have to avoid the canines’ relisting under the federal Endangered Species Act.
But the number is dropping, evidence shows. Fish and Game documented a peak of 856 wolves in 2009. The number has been falling ever since; the agency counted 659 wolves in 2013.
The agency recorded 20 wolf breeding pairs in 2013 that meet the federal criteria of two wolves with two pups. So far, 22 have been documented for 2014, Hayden said, based on a study of 30 of the state’s 107 wolf packs, though this number might go up when all the data are analyzed.
The delisting rule requires the state to maintain at least 15 breeding pairs in mid-winter. Federal monitoring will continue until May 4, 2016, under the current rule.
Reported wolf attacks on livestock and wolves killed by hunters and trappers have decreased significantly, Hayden said, which also points to a declining population.
In 2014, 75 livestock attacks were reported, the fewest since 2008. And hunters and trappers have taken 170 wolves so far in the 2014-15 season, down from 234 at this point in 2014.
The federal reintroduction of wolves into Idaho in the mid-1990s was controversial, with many concerned about attacks on livestock and the effect on the elk and deer populations.
Wolf hunting started again in 2009 and, in 2014, the state created a Wolf Depredation Control Board and gave it $400,000 to kill wolves. Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter is asking lawmakers for the same amount for 2015-16.
The state’s management policies have received pushback from environmental groups, who have dubbed it a “War on Wolves” and say the state wants to kill as many as possible.
“This report should be a wake-up call to the (U.S.) Fish and Wildlife Service,” said Andrea Santarsiere, a staff attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity. “Idaho’s adopted plan of state-promoted execution isn’t working, and the (Fish and Wildlife) Service must step in to save the wolf population before it’s too late.”
Santarsiere said the group still is discussing what its next step should be. The green group hopes for an increase in federal monitoring, with the population dropping at the very least. One possibility would be to ask the federal government to protect wolves again.
“They’ve said in the past that if any of the states’ management plans are not complying with these numbers, that federal protections may be warranted again,” she said.
Hayden said Fish and Game stepped up its data collection in 2014 by collaring more wolves. State studies have shown more breeding pairs than the federal criteria indicate, he said. For example, he said, DNA testing of wolf pups in 2012 showed at least 75 successful litters, and field workers confirmed that at least 66 packs had produced pups.
Over the past few months, some federal judges have indicated a willingness to return wolves to federal protection after concluding states aren’t managing them adequately. In response to lawsuits from environmental groups, federal judges restored Endangered Species Act protections for wolves in Wyoming in September, and in several Great Lakes states in December.
But some lawmakers in Congress are writing legislation now to return the authority to the states. U.S. Rep. Mike Simpson “strongly supports continued wolf management by the state,” says his press office.
Steve Alder, head of the hunting rights group Idaho for Wildlife and its controversial predator derby in Salmon the past two years, years, said Fish and Game should do more to document the wolf population.
“My opinion is, we’ve got some real wolf advocates working with Fish and Game that would like to see state management gone,” he said.
Alder wrote on Facebook later Thursday, though, that Hayden is good with data, and he hopes Hayden’s numbers can be substantiated. He seemed pleased with the increased monitoring since last spring.
“If the feds take over, it’s going to be worse for the wolves and the environmental community,” Alder said. “It’s going to just cause more hatred for wolves and wolf advocates. We don’t want that.”