Friday, September 4, 2009

3 wolves claimed in first days of hunt

Carey rancher loses 23 more sheep; feds investigating

Express Staff Writer

A member of the Phantom Hill pack passes through a Wood River Valley subdivision. Photo by Mountain Express

Three wolves have been shot and killed in Idaho since the state's wolf hunt began on Tuesday.

Idaho Fish and Game spokesman Ed Mitchell said two of the wolves were killed in the Lolo wolf zone, which is in north-central Idaho. The third was killed in the Sawtooth wolf zone, near Bull Trout Lake, northwest of Stanley off state Highway 21.

Mitchell said two of the kills took place at dawn on Sept. 1 and the other, the second in the Lolo zone, happened later that day.

Describing the Sawtooth kill, Mitchell said a man bow hunting for elk, who had a rifle disassembled in his pack, heard a wolf harassing his horse while he was in his tent and quickly put his rifle together and shot the wolf.

Mitchell said a Fish and Game conservation officer retrieving the skull of the wolf confirmed that it had been shot near the spot where the horse had been tethered.

"Other than these kills, it's been really quiet in the woods and zero violations have been recorded," Mitchell said. "People are just behaving themselves like crazy, so we're really pleased with the way things are turning out. The claims of a massacre haven't been founded."

Mitchell said he expects "a lot more activity" when deer and elk season opens for rifle hunters in mid-October.

More than 11,200 wolf tags have been purchased since going on sale Aug. 24. The dates of the wolf 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.

In Idaho, hunters will be allowed to kill up to 220 wolves, with limits set in each of 12 zones. In addition, 35 wolves can be killed by the Nez Perce Tribe.

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

However, the hunt could be canceled. U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy in Missoula, Mont., continues to deliberate on whether to restore the protections of the federal Endangered Species Act to wolves in the northern Rockies.

On Monday, Molloy heard testimony from Earthjustice, a law firm representing numerous conservation groups opposing the hunt, and from 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.

As wolves are being targeted by hunters, the predators continue to hunt, too. Twenty-three more sheep belonging to the Flat Top Sheep Co. were killed Monday night. Ranch owner John Peavey said seven others were injured and would likely die. U.S. Fish and Wildlife is inspecting the carcasses to confirm that wolves were responsible.

Peavey reported earlier that he lost nine sheep and a guard dog to wolves about two weeks ago.

Both attacks happened in the Iron Mine Creek drainage north of Carey.

Todd Grimm, Western District supervisor of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Wildlife Services, said that if the sheep were killed by wolves, that would result in a "control action" in which wolves from the offending pack would be killed.

If it is confirmed that the sheep were killed by wolves, the blame would most likely fall to the Little Wood pack, which has about nine members.

"This pack has a history of trouble this summer," Grimm said.

Peavey said he has no problem with the wolves being shot once the depredation is verified as a wolf kill.

"We need to see all the details, but if we have bad actors up there, I think it's appropriate [for a control action]," Peavey said. "They didn't do this out of hunger—this was recreational killing."

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