Wednesday, March 28, 2012

F&G Commission raises wolf take

2012-13 season increases bag limit in northern zones


By KATHERINE WUTZ
Express Staff Writer

Photos courtesy of Idaho Department of Fish and Game An Idaho wolf stands in a grove of aspen trees.

The Idaho Fish and Game Commission has upped the take for the 2012-13 wolf season in the Southern Mountains Zone.

Next season, hunters and trappers will be allowed to kill a total of 40 wolves in the zone, which encompasses the Wood River Valley. The harvest limit was set at 25 this season, and closed early when hunters met that quota in late February.

The new season also sets an increased bag limit of five wolves for each hunter and trapper, up from two this year, in six zones in the northern end of the state—the Panhandle, Palouse-Hells Canyon, Dworshak, Lolo, Selway and Middle Fork zones.

Idaho Department of Fish and Game Deputy Director Jim Unsworth said the commission set the season with one goal—to increase wolf harvest.

"[That will] reduce or control livestock depredations and also reduce predation on elk and deer," he said. "Right now, we're being pretty aggressive with wolf harvest."

Unsworth said elk harvest numbers were down in 2011, and as a result, the commission has had to reduce elk seasons across the state.

"We've had to dramatically reduce elk seasons through Idaho," he said. "Part of that is due to increased cow and calf mortality [as a result of predation]."

Idaho Fish and Game reports show elk harvests were up between 2009 and 2010, from 10,473 to 11,794 in the general hunt. However, according to preliminary data for the 2011 harvest, hunters took only 9,800 elk in the general hunt—the lowest take in 20 years, according to agency records.

Unsworth said the increase in next year's wolf quota was not a surprise, as the commission has been "on record" as wanting to reduce the state's wolf population.

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A 2011 annual summary of wolf monitoring and populations released last month showed that the number of wolves in Idaho dropped from an estimated 777 in 2010 to 746 at the end of 2011. Fish and Game biologists confirmed the deaths of 296 wolves in 2011, 63 of which were control actions and 18 of which were killed illegally.

"Progress is being made," Unsworth said in a later interview. "Populations are decreasing, and we're heading in the right direction."

Garrick Dutcher, spokesman for wolf advocacy group Living with Wolves, said the population decreases are troubling from a wildlife conservation standpoint.

"If we came into the season with over 1,000 wolves, we're very quickly approaching a 50 percent reduction in one year," he said.

Unsworth said the commission has no intention of letting the population drop below sustainable levels, and the department will be carefully monitoring both wolf and elk populations in an effort to strike a predator-prey balance.

"The department is committed to not reaching a wolf population level that would see wolves re-listed and in federal control," he said.

Katherine Wutz: kwutz@mtexpress.com




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