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The Game Trail

The straight skinny on wolf regulations

Wolves have been a topic of many discussions for people, including Idaho Fish and Game employees, over the past few years. I suspect that won’t change for another few years, but like all hot topics, it will fade away and another topic will take its place. Remember all the heated talk about grizzly bears a decade ago? Not so much anymore.

In 1995 and 1996 the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service introduced 35 wolves to central Idaho as an experimental, nonessential population under the Endangered Species Act, and over the objections of the State of Idaho. Many things have happened over the last decade, and in 2008, with public involvement, the Idaho Fish and Game commission approved the Idaho Wolf’s Population Management Plan. It set the wolf population objective at 2005 and 2007 levels—a range of about 500 to 700 wolves for the five-year post-delisting period. Following the commission’s approval of Idaho’s wolf management plan, legal challenges of a federal delisting rule precluded state management of wolves. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service approved the 2008 Idaho Wolf Management Plan, and a federal judge found it acceptable. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service de-listed the wolf in May, and management of wolves was turned over to the state of Idaho.

The following are some highlights of the Fish and Game Commission’s decisions that have brought us to where we are today. The Fish and Game wolf population model shows Idaho now has at least 1,000 wolves and the population is increasing at a rate of about 20 percent a year without hunting. The Idaho Fish and Game Commission adopted a harvest strategy plan that would help meet the state’s population objective as outlined in the above mentioned 2008 wolf management plan.

So what does that all mean? Hunters will be allowed to take up to 220 wolves this fall and winter. Commissioners hope this action will help Idaho retain state management of its growing wolf population. Commissioners also want to manage the wolf population toward the 2005 level of 520 wolves through regulated hunting, a level that is five times higher than the federal recovery goal. The 2005 wolf population figure was used as a target number because wolf conflicts both with wildlife and livestock increased significantly that year.

Commissioners have set limits for each of Idaho’s 12 wolf management zones. When the limit is met in a zone, the season will close in that zone. When the statewide quota is reached, hunting in all zones will close.  The next few wolf hunting seasons will give Fish and Game an opportunity to learn how public hunting will work as a management tool for wolves. Like all seasons, methods and seasons will be tweaked over the years to meet the Fish and Game management plan. The same is true for deer, elk, salmon, black bears and mountain lions. Wolves will be managed in a similar fashion.

There is no doubt wolves are having an impact on elk populations in Idaho, particularly in the Lolo and Sawtooth zones. Harvest limits can be increased in areas where wolves are causing unacceptable problems for big game and domestic livestock and subsequently, limits can be reduced in zones to promote linkage between populations in other states.

Wolf tags went on sale August 24 at 10 am at all vendors and at Fish and Game Offices.  Tags cost $11.50 for residents of Idaho and $186 for non-residents. Of course, a hunting license is required as well.

In the Panhandle wolf management zone, which includes Units 1-7 and 9, the limit has been set at 30 wolves with the season opening October 1 and ending December 31. Hunters have to report a wolf harvest by calling 1-877-872-3190 within five days of the harvest date. You can also call that number to find out if the season has been closed or visit http://fishand game.idaho.gov/cms/hunt. Additionally, hunters must present the skull and hide for tagging to a Fish and Game Regional Office or Conservation Officer within five days of the kill.

A hearing in federal court on Monday, August 31, could result in an injunction halting Idaho’s wolf hunt. Scheduled wolf hunting seasons in the Lolo and Sawtooth wolf zones open Tuesday, September 1. The injunction, if granted, may affect these and later hunts. Web update: the injunction was not granted.

Hunters are asked to check the Idaho Fish and Game website , or call the toll free wolf hunt information number 1-877-872-3190 before their hunt.

Please don’t forget to pick up a copy of the hunting regulations. There have been changes to season dates so read up before you head out. If you have any questions don’t hesitate to call me or the Regional Office at 208-796-1414. Be respectful to the resource, your fellow hunter and non-hunter, and most of all your local Conservation Officer! See you out there.

Leave No Child Inside

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Matt Haag Matt Haag is an Idaho Fish and Game Conservation Officer.

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