Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Idaho seeks permission to kill Lolo wolves

Plan calls for killing 40 to 50 wolves


By KATHERINE WUTZ
Express Staff Writer

After a month-long public comment period, the Idaho Department of Fish and Game submitted a proposal to reduce wolves in the Lolo region by 50 to 80 percent over the next year.

If approved by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the management plan would allow the killing of "an initial minimum removal of 40 to 50 wolves" during the first year. The Lolo Zone in northern Idaho is home to at least 75 wolves, which, according to an ongoing Fish and Game study, is reducing elk populations in the region.

This proposal is the first to outline a plan for wolf management under the Endangered Species Act's 10j provision, which gives states with federally approved wolf management plans, such as Idaho's, authority to request wolf killings to protect threatened ungulates such as elk and deer. Though wolves have once again been deemed an endangered species as of an August ruling by U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy, wolves in most of Idaho are classified as a "non-essential" or "experimental" population. That classification gives states some flexibility regarding management.

The proposal was in development in early 2009, but Idaho wolves were delisted from the act, rendering the proposal unnecessary. It was updated and resubmitted after Molloy's August decision.

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Department spokesman Ed Mitchell denied that the plan, if approved, would set a precedent for other regions.

"It may be that this is the only place this will work," Mitchell said. "I wouldn't go so far as to call it a precedent for other actions ... but it certainly has potential."

The plan sets elk objectives at 7,400 to 11,000 for the region, well below the 1989 peak of more than 16,000 animals. The objective is above the estimated 4,691 elk in the region in 2002, just prior to wolves becoming a significant predator in the area, and well above the current estimate of 2,100.

Wolf advocate Garrick Dutcher, program manager for Ketchum-based Living with Wolves, said the region's elk are in a "natural decline," and that the Lolo plan is a "misguided assault" on wolves.

"This is wildlife mismanagement designed to artificially boost an elk population," Dutcher said. "Wolves are good for a balanced ecosystem, [but] not for a game farm."

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service must approve the plan before it goes into effect. Mitchell said service officials had not set a definite timeline, but that he expected a decision "sooner rather than later."

Katherine Wutz: kwutz@mtexpress.com




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