Wednesday, September 2, 2009

As judge deliberates, wolf hunt begins

Hunting opens in Sawtooths; 11,000 tags sold in Idaho

Express Staff Writer

While a U.S. District judge in Montana remained undecided Tuesday as to whether to put wolves back on the federal endangered species list, hunters in Idaho were legally allowed to take aim at the elusive predators.

Idaho Fish and Game spokesman Ed Mitchell said about 11,000 wolf tags have been sold since they became available Aug. 24. But there's still a chance that the camouflaged throngs will be stymied before they can come close to the state's quota of more than 200 wolves.

Judge Donald Molloy, in Missoula, Mont., listened to arguments Monday from Earthjustice, a law firm representing numerous conservation groups opposing the hunt, and U.S. Department of Justice attorney Michael Eitel, defending the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's decision to remove wolves from the endangered species list.

After hours of deliberation, Molloy issued no decision, but said he would make one soon.

According to a report in the Billings Gazette, Molloy said he wondered if a wolf hunt would provide wildlife managers with better data to work with or simply allow more damage to a clearly contentious situation.

By not restoring the protections of the Endangered Species Act to wolves, Molloy allowed the hunt for 220 gray wolves to begin in Idaho. Another 35 wolves can be killed by the Nez Perce Tribe.

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

Montana is scheduled to open its wolf season on Sept. 15, with a quota of 75 gray wolves.

In Idaho, the longest seasons will take place in the Sawtooth and Lolo wolf zones, the former around the Stanley area and the latter located in north-central Idaho. In both spots, the seven-month hunt began Tuesday, Sept. 1, and is set to end March 31, 2010.

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.

Mitchell said that as of Tuesday afternoon, no wolf kills had been reported, although he wouldn't have an accurate picture of the beginning of the hunt until Thursday since hunters have 24 hours to make their reports. He added that because wolves are difficult to track and are extremely alert animals, many hunters would probably be unsuccessful.

"As far as I know, we haven't had any action in the hills yet," Mitchell said early Tuesday afternoon. "We don't really know what to expect, but this could turn out to be the non-event of the 21st century in Idaho."

Mitchell said that in addition to requiring hunters to have a wolf kill physically verified by a Fish and Game officer, there would also be check points set up along state Highway 21 for the Sawtooth-area hunt. In addition, he said Fish and Game enforcement crews and biologists would be in the field to monitor the hunt.

"We'll have people stationed at access points to make sure we get the maximum bang for the buck," Mitchell said.

But while the wolf hunt may have gotten off to a slow start, the wolves themselves have proved plenty busy in the past couple of weeks.

John Peavey, owner of the Flat Top Sheep Co. near Carey, reported that wolves killed nine of his sheep and one Great Pyrenees guard dog about two weeks ago while they were bedded down along a ridge at night.

Todd Grimm, Western District supervisor of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Wildlife Services, said his officers were unable to confirm that the sheep were killed by wolves.

However, he did confirm that members of the Phantom Hill pack killed a guard dog on Aug. 27 near Pole Creek, on the north side of Galena Summit. He said that the previous day, another guard dog, as well as a ewe, were killed by wolves, though it was not confirmed if it was the same pack.

These sheep depredations were miniscule compared to the 120 Rambouillet sheep rams killed by wolves last week at a ranch near Dillon, Mont. According to a story in the Missoulian, U.S. Wildlife Service's Graeme McDougal shot and killed one of the offending wolves soon after the attack.

Peavey, who also lost 19 rams to wolves last year, said he doubts the hunt will have a significant impact on the wolf population.

Jon Duval:

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