Idahoans got a jump-start on a presumptive wolf season last Friday, when the Idaho Department of Fish and Game began selling wolf tags following the species' official removal from federal protection.
Department spokesman Mike Keckler said 964 wolf tags had been sold as of 3 p.m. on Tuesday, a far cry from the thousands that were sold in one day prior to the state's first wolf hunt in 2009.
"There was interest, but not a huge amount of interest, compared to the first year we had a wolf hunt," he said.
Magic Valley Region Fish and Game spokesman Kelton Hatch said response has been slower in the region, as well.
"I don't know that there was quite as much fanfare over it as there was last time," he said.
Keckler said the difference is partly due to the fact that any season is likely to be four months away. In 2009, tags went on sale about a month before hunters were allowed to take aim.
The Idaho Fish and Game Commission will not set rules, quotas and seasons until July at the earliest. Keckler said the season would likely coincide with other big game seasons in late August and early September.
Joe McKinnon, a salesperson at Silver Creek Outfitters in Ketchum, said he hasn't seen much of a response at his store, though he has sold a few tags. Response in the south valley was stronger, and Guffy's Service Station owner Martin Chandler said he's sold approximately 30 tags to people who want their shot at a gray wolf.
"Most of the people I deal with here are hunters or ranchers and farmers," Chandler said. "They're happy to see the wolf tags on sale. It's mostly the avid hunters and people who feel very strongly about the wolf."
Chandler and McKinnon both said they expect to see a rise in tag demand if a season is set this summer.
Regardless of the commission's eventual season-setting decisions, wolf season could be delayed if three environmental groups are successful in a lawsuit filed against the U.S. Department of Interior and the Fish and Wildlife Service on May 5.
The 2009 rule that removed wolves from federal protection was protected from legal challenge by the congressional provision that delisted the species, but the provision itself is being challenged by the Alliance for the Wild Rockies, Friends of the Clearwater and WildEarth Guardians.
The groups argue that the provision is unconstitutional, as Congress effectively overturned a ruling by U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy. If the groups are successful, the budget provision could be overturned and wolves returned to federal protection.
Keckler said he couldn't speculate about the certainty of a wolf season, but pointed out that the department offered refunds to tag holders who requested them when wolves were relisted last summer.
Selling tags for big game animals before a season is set is typical, he said.
"Once the year changes, you can buy your over-the-counter deer and elk tags starting January 1," he said. "It's not unusual."
Hatch also declined to speculate on litigation, but said the department is preparing for another season like 2009.
"We believe we'll have a hunting season this fall," he said.
Katherine Wutz: email@example.com