The 2012-2013 wolf-hunting season began officially on Sunday, sending wolf advocates into a tailspin protesting the new rules and season.
The 2011-2012 wolf season ended on June 30 in all of the state, though wolf hunting in the Southern Mountains Zone ended in late February. That zone includes Ketchum, Sun Valley, Hailey, Bellevue, Carey and much of the Wood River Valley.
However, this year's wolf season started on Sunday in the Panhandle Zone in Northern Idaho, on private land only. This is the earliest zone to open in the state, and all others will follow on Aug. 30.
Defenders of Wildlife spokesman Mike Leahy spoke out against year-round wolf hunting in a news release on Tuesday, saying the move is another attempt by the state to drastically reduce the number of wolves in Idaho.
"Despite eliminating hundreds of wolves last year, Idaho is already ramping up its wolf-killing efforts by allowing wolves to be targeted year-round, bringing them one step closer to declaring open season on wolves statewide," Leahy said.
Last year, hunters and trappers killed 379 wolves over the season—25 of which were in the Southern Mountains Zone. As of the end of 2011, the estimated wolf population stood at 746, but Idaho Fish and Game spokesman Niels Nokkentved said that number would not include any pups born this year or wolves killed after Dec. 31, 2011.
The harvest limit in the Southern Mountains Zone has been raised as well, from 25 last year to 40 this year. The season here is set to run from Aug. 30 through March 31, or until hunters kill 40 wolves. The neighboring Sawtooth Zone has a harvest limit of 60; Beaverhead on the Montana-Idaho border has a limit of 10; Island Park, near the northern part of the Wyoming-Idaho border, 30; Salmon, to the northeast of the Southern Mountains Zone, has a limit of 40.
The remainder of the state, including most of northern and southern Idaho, remains without harvest limits.
Another controversial change has been the ability for wolf hunters to use as many as five wolf tags per calendar year in many parts of the state.
The Southern Mountains Zone allows only two wolf tags per calendar year, no change from last year, but the Clearwater and Panhandle regions of the state allow the increase. Trapping limits have also changed to reflect those increases in the regions where trapping is allowed.
Garrick Dutcher, spokesman for wolf advocacy group Living with Wolves, said that the increase is a blatant attempt by wildlife officials to dramatically reduce wolf populations.
"It's an increase of 250 percent," Dutcher said of the tag increase. "If we took the wolf population down by 50 percent last year, it's obvious what the powers that be are trying to do to our wolf population."
Nokkentved said he could not comment on the motives behind the change, as it was a Fish and Game Commission decision. Members of the commission could not be reached as of press time Thursday.
Currently, the Idaho wolf management plan calls for a minimum wolf population of 150 wolves before the species would be considered for re-listing under federal protection. Though Dutcher stated that there were likely 600 wolves remaining in Idaho currently, Leahy stated that the commission is treating the federally-set minimum as a goal.
"They are just trying to drive the population down to the federal minimum," Leahy said. "Idaho appears more concerned with catering to anti-wolf extremists who want to get rid of as many wolves as possible than in responsibly managing wildlife."
Dutcher said that no other big game animal is hunted year-round, and that wolves are held to a different standard than other big game animals—the populations of which are usually not intentionally reduced.
"How would Idaho Fish and Game respond if somehow we killed half of our elk in a year?" he said. "Would they respond by increasing the take by 250 percent? No. They would make drastic measures to protect the population."
Kate Wutz: email@example.com
By the numbers
- Quota in Southern Mountains Zone: 40
- Quota for state: none set
- Tags allowed for use in Southern Mountains Zone: 2
- Tags allowed for use in northern Idaho: 5
- Wolves killed last year: 379
- Wolves remaining this year: roughly 600