The Idaho Department of Fish and Game regained control over the state's wolf population early this month, but it only began to take full advantage of that control last week when the agency killed five wolves in north-central Idaho to protect elk herds.
This early effort met with mixed success, however, as gunning had to be stopped when conditions made it inefficient and expensive.
Deputy Director Jim Unsworth told the Lewiston Tribune that Wildlife Services, which carries out these control actions, suspended the hunt indefinitely on Friday because the wolves are hunting elk in thick timber, which makes them difficult to shoot from the air.
"The elk and deer are on green-up down low and the wolves are there with them," he said. "We can find the packs, but [we] can't find the wolves to do anything from a control standpoint."
The aerial gunning was part of a management plan proposed for the Lolo Zone last year and submitted to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for approval.
The plan calls for maintaining a population of 20 to 30 wolves, with a kill of 50 in the first year. The plan would reduce the wolf population by 50 to 80 percent. An ongoing department study has shown that wolf predation is one factor, along with habitat loss, in the region's dropping elk population.
The department stated in a press release last week that the hunt was attempted immediately to reduce wolf populations before elk calving season.
In lieu of helicopter hunting, the department has authorized outfitters to kill any wolves they encounter as part of the spring black bear hunt in the two units that comprise the Lolo zone.
The department announced Friday that it will also take the lead in responding to livestock depredations. Last year, Wildlife Services determined that statewide, wolves killed 75 cattle, 148 sheep, two horses and one domestic bison last year, while 14 cattle, 30 sheep and one guard dog were considered probable wolf kills.
The department stated in a press release that it expects wolf control actions to peak in the summer. While most control actions will be carried out by Wildlife Services, sport hunters could be used in future hunts to help resolve wolf conflicts in certain areas.
Dates and rules for a public wolf hunting season have not yet been set, though the department announced that the Fish and Game Commission would get an update on wolf management and discuss the hunt during its meeting in Lewiston today.
A hunt likely won't be set until the commission's meeting in June. Any public hunting would likely not occur before September.
Katherine Wutz: email@example.com