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Idaho’s first public wolf hunt ending

April 02, 2010 at 04:04 PM

Associated Press Writer

BOISE, Idaho (AP) - As the nation’s first regulated public wolf hunt in decades draws to a close, Idaho wildlife managers credited sportsmen for helping stabilize a species that was growing rapidly across the Northern Rockies and lived up to its billing as an elusive, cunning target.

Idaho’s seven-month season ended at dusk Wednesday, with the tally showing hunters bagged 185 wolves, short of the 220-wolf limit set by the state last year.

Already, wildlife officials in Idaho and Montana are making plans to expand quotas for next season and give hunters more advantages for tracking and killing a species that has been growing in Idaho by an average of 20 percent a year.

Idaho officials praised the hunt Wednesday, claiming the way it was managed and the goals it achieved demonstrate that states can effectively and responsibly manage a species the federal government spent millions of dollars over the last 15 years restoring in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming.

Cal Groen, director of the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, said it should also dispel fears that giving hunters license to kill wolves would threaten recovery less than a year after being removed from the endangered species list.

“I think this shows that we’re going still going to have a healthy wolf population that can be a part of our landscape,” Groen said.

In Montana, hunters killed 72 wolves during a two-month season, while wildlife agents killed another 145 for harassing or preying on cattle and sheep. In
Wyoming, where wolves are still under federal protections, agents killed 32 wolves, and in Idaho, another 138 were killed by agents.

Despite the impact of hunters, government agents and other biological factors, the population of wolves scattered across the Northern Rockies, including those migrating into Oregon and Washington, increased again last year. But the 4 percent increase was the lowest since 1995 when wolves were introduced in
Yellowstone National Park and central Idaho.

A report issued in March by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service found more than 1,700 wolves roaming the region, compared to 1,650 the previous year. The number of breeding packs increased from 95 to 115.

Despite preparations for next season, the future of public hunts in both states hinges on a federal court case.

U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy in Missoula, Mont., is considering a lawsuit filed by environmentalists last year. The lawsuit asks Molloy to put wolves back on the endangered species list until the federal government develops a new plan for managing wolves in the Northern Rockies.

In September, Molloy rejected a request to block the hunts, opting instead to let the hunts play out - considering the species’ ability to bounce back. A ruling in the case is pending.

While environmentalists are no fans of the hunts, they contend the real problem is a federal management plan that sets an unsustainable population threshold and allows states to aggressively pursue that goal. Under the federal plan, states can deem wolves fair game if Montana, Idaho and Wyoming each have a wolf population of at least 150 animals.

“The biggest threat facing wolves is not the hunts but the government’s delisting plan,” said Suzanne Stone, of the Defenders for Wildlife. “We’re looking for a federal plan that doesn’t go to the extremes like the one in place now.”

Since the Idaho season opened in September, the more than 26,000 hunters who bought a $10 wolf tag had limited success.

In some parts of the state, hunting zone quotas were reached within months of opening day. But in the more wild forests and rugged mountain backcountry, success rates fell, complicating the state’s goal of trimming wolf numbers to protect some of the state’s prized elk herds.

“We will be looking at other management tools for those tough, backcountry areas,” Groen said.

If the hunts go forward this year, changes are expected.

Idaho and Montana will consider expanding their quotas.

Idaho is considering letting hunters use electronic call devices, and in some cases or regions, loose restrictions on the use of bait.

Montana is studying changes in the early season backcountry hunt, after the 2009 hunt saw a heavy number of wolves killed just outside Yellowstone National
Park, angering environmentalists and frustrating some ranchers who hoped more wolves would be taken in areas where wolves more frequently attack livestock.

“I’ll be severely disappointed if we don’t have a hunting season next year,” Groen said. “We need it as a management tool.”

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