IDAHO'S NORTHERN GRAY WOLVES

Posted August 2, 2008

Against the wishes of the Idaho State government as well as sheep and cattle ranchers, some deer and elk hunters and other citizens, the northern gray wolf was reintroduced into Idaho about 10 years ago. Except for in the Panhandle, wolves had been exterminated from the state.

When wolves were eradicated from most of Idaho, the ecology changed. Historically, wolves evolved in conjunction with somewhat balanced populations of native deer, elk, moose, antelope, and other species. Reintroduced wolves entered ecosystems dominated by white-tailed deer and elk (preferred by hunters), and sheep and cattle raised by ranchers. Wolves were reintroduced into an unnatural ecosystem of wild ungulates (deer and elk) that had, to some degree, lost their predator avoidance behavior and to domestic livestock. 

Wolf populations expanded quickly and dramatically, at the expense of native and domestic prey. Then, it wasn’t only wolves howling! There were plenty of cries from hunters and ranchers. Idaho government officials, who include plenty of both, maintained an anti-wolf stance. Along with Montana and Wyoming, Idaho convinced the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that de-listing of this species as threatened was in order, and that the States would provide management of wolves adequate to retain them in perpetuity.

An Idaho wolf management plan was prepared and submitted for public review. Because we saw it as not very good, pandering shamelessly to anti-wolf sentiment and not even factually correct, SCA provided extensive comments, as did hundreds of other organizations and individuals. A revised plan came out that seemed a little better.

Biologist examines a gray wolf

Then, Idaho prepared its wolf hunting program. The hunting goals, i.e. proposed wolf deaths, were based on data not included in the wolf management plan on which SCA commented, but on unpublished data not made available to the public. Wolf hunting numbers were based on population growth figures never recorded in the wild for Idaho wolf populations. To exacerbate the situation, the Fish and Game Commission decided to add an additional 100 wolves to the hunting program with no scientific basis. Hunters were allowed 438 wolves of the approximately 1,000 in Idaho – almost 50% mortality.  Comments were ignored; SCA complaints to the Director of IDFG received no response.

Fortunately, the US Fish and Wildlife Service decision to de-list wolves and turn management over to state governments was appealed in federal court by 12 conservation organizations, using Earthjustice as the environmental attorney firm. Earthjustice sought a stay of the federal government’s decision. They won; we won; best of all, the wolves won a stay of execution – literally. Idaho, Montana and Wyoming are considering their options but none of their options seem to consider managing wolves in a responsible fashion. The options are weighed on political ramification, not on recommendations made by field biologists. IDFG biologists know how to manage wolves appropriately; they are not allowed to do so.

SCA was not a co-plaintiff in the original litigation and it is unlikely that we will be actively involved in the continuing court case, if that occurs. However, we will monitor what happens, and be supportive those involved, especially those under attack – the wolves. We’ll do what we can do, with your support.

Photo credits:
Biologist examining a tranquilized gray wolf – LuRay Parker, U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service

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