Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Thousands purchase wolf-hunting permits

Conservation groups continue to work to stop fall hunt

Express Staff Writer

Hunters line up at Guffy’s in Bellevue on Monday morning to buy permits for the upcoming gray wolf hunt, set to begin Oct. 1 for the area around the Wood River Valley. Idaho Fish and Game has set the statewide quota for the hunt at 220 wolves. Photo by Willy Cook

Demand was high as wolf tags went on sale Monday morning for a controversial hunt scheduled to begin Sept 1.

Idaho Fish and Game spokesman Ed Mitchell said that more than 2,000 permits were sold in the first hour and a half after going on sale at 10 a.m. By Tuesday morning, more than 5,100 tags had been sold, with about 2 percent going to out-of-state hunters.

However, there is a chance the hunt could be canceled before a shot is fired if environmental groups are successful in a last-minute injunction hearing set for Monday, Aug. 31, in Missoula, Mont.

If the hunt proceeds, hunters will be allowed to kill 220 wolves throughout Idaho, with limits set in 12 different "wolf zones." In addition, 35 wolves can be killed by the Nez Perce Tribe.

The tags cost $11.75 for Idaho residents and $186 for non-residents.

"This hunt has been a long time coming," said Billy Ward, a hunter from Bellevue who bought a wolf tag Monday morning. "Environmentalists have had this issue tied up in courts too long. This management should have happened when we had 10 breeding pairs and 100 wolves. Now, nobody knows how many packs or wolves Idaho has."

Mitchell said that while the sales rush has been unusual compared to other regular hunts, he did not have an estimate of how many total wolf tags would be sold.

"This is our first rodeo, so I don't know how to judge the sales," he said.

Dates for the hunt vary from zone to zone, with the zone including the Wood River Valley—home range of the Phantom Hill pack—open from Oct. 1 through Dec. 31. The valley falls into Idaho's Southern Mountains wolf zone, which extends east across the Pioneer, White Knob, Lost River, Lemhi and Beaverhead mountain ranges to the Montana border. Ten wolves can be killed in that zone.

The longest season will take place in the Sawtooth and Lolo wolf zones, the latter located in north-central Idaho. In both spots, the seven-month hunt will begin Sept. 1 and end March 31.

In the Sawtooth zone, which stretches from Boise across the Boise, Sawtooth and White Cloud mountains, 55 wolves can be killed. Mitchell said the zone has the highest quota due to declining deer and elk herds.

Hunts will be closed in each zone once the quotas are reached.

Fish and Game estimates that there would be 1,020 wolves in the state by the end of the year without a hunt.

Hunters are required to report a wolf kill within 24 hours and have it physically verified by a Fish and Game officer.

On June, 13 conservation groups, including Defenders of Wildlife, filed suit to overturn the most recent northern Rockies wolf-delisting rule.

A similar tact was taken last summer when U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy of Missoula ordered the federal government to place gray wolves in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming back on the federal endangered species list. Wolves were again removed from the list last spring, but only in Idaho and Montana. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had deemed Wyoming's management plan inadequate.

Once again, conservation groups are hoping to successfully convince Molloy to step in and stop the hunt.

Jon Duval:

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