Friday, May 30, 2008

Idaho needs wolf management

Cal Groen is the director of the Idaho Fish and Game Department.


Without the support of hunters, anglers and other conservationists, there would be little wildlife in Idaho. Big game animals were mostly eliminated by the time a voter initiative established the Fish and Game Department in 1938.

Today we can hunt 10 species of big game; wolves will make it 11.

Idaho Fish and Game has long embraced the principles of the North American wildlife management model and has a long record of successful game management.

Wolves were all but eradicated from Idaho by the 1930s, and they were added to the endangered species list in 1974. Today, there are more than 700 wolves in Idaho, and they have been delisted to be managed by Fish and Game as a big game animal.

Idaho initially resisted the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's effort to reintroduce wolves, even denying an importation permit for the reintroduction. Public opinion polls of Idahoans showed no clear majority for or against reintroduction of wolves.

But in 2002, recognizing that it would rather have Idaho managing wolves, the Legislature passed a wolf management plan that laid the groundwork for Idaho Fish and Game to assume management of wolves once they were removed from federal protection.

Since then wolf numbers have continued to rise. Fish and Game took on the recovery effort and has applied its expertise in big game management to gray wolves. Biologists developed a wolf population management plan, adopted by the Idaho Fish and Game Commission in March.

The 10 breeding pairs and 100 wolves set out in recovery documents are minimum numbers that avoid federal relisting. They are not a management goal.

Based on the Legislature's 2002 plan, the commission set a management goal of 500 to 700 wolves in the 2008 wolf population management plan. The plan sets out a dynamic process, known to biologists as adaptive management, that adjusts as wolf numbers or conflicts grow in specific areas.

In the historic setting of Idaho's first legal wolf hunts recently, the Fish and Game Commission decided to hold wolf numbers to the 2005 level, about 518 wolves.

The wolf-hunting season incorporates a mortality limit that reflects reported deaths from hunting, depredation control, disease, accidents and other causes. The limit is based on annual population growth statistics. About 120 wolves in Idaho are radio collared, and they are spread across about two-thirds of confirmed wolf packs. We can directly monitor a higher proportion of wolves statewide than any other game animal in Idaho. We rely on monitoring data for estimating population numbers, production, survival and pack territories—all important to management. The data show that wolf populations in Idaho are increasing about 20 percent each year.

In my opinion, without active management, including hunting, we will have even more predation, more conflict and more injury to elk herds and livestock, as well as to hunter opportunity and related economies.

The North American wildlife management model brought deer, elk, black bear, mountain lion and many other species back from the brink in the 20th century. At Fish and Game, we have a decades-long record of applying this successful management model, and Idahoans can trust us to use it to manage and sustain the gray wolf in the 21st.

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