The month of August is typically the most active month of the year for predator-livestock conflicts statewide, but this year those incidents have dropped by more than half compared to the previous five-year average.
Idaho Wildlife Services, an agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture tasked with reducing damage caused by wild animals and birds, received complaints of 13 incidents of wolf depredation this August. The previous five-year average was 28 complaints each August.
The agency has killed 28 wolves in response to those complaints so far this fiscal year, as well as 23 wolves in the Lolo Wolf Zone this winter on behalf of the Idaho Department of Fish and Game.
Over the previous five years, the agency killed an average of 75 wolves per year, all in response to depredation incidents.
“We’ve been able to respond to depredation incidents more quickly and resolve them.”
Idaho Wildlife Services
Idaho Wildlife Services Director Todd Grimm said there are probably several reasons for the declines, but said a contract entered into with the Idaho Wolf Depredation Control Board in early August has played a role. The board agreed to reimburse the agency up to $225,000 through Dec. 31 for its expenses in “damage management services” to protect livestock and wild ungulates.
“I’ve added staff,” Grimm said. “With this agreement, we’ve been able to respond to depredation incidents more quickly and resolve them.”
The money comes from a $620,000 fund managed by the board—$400,000 appropriated by the Legislature and fees of $110,000 from hunting licenses and $110,000 from the livestock industry—under legislation passed this year to provide lethal control of wolves.
Grimm said that under the contract, Wildlife Services will also respond to requests from the Idaho Department of Fish and Game.
“If they have an area that’s hard-hit by wolves, they will ask us to come in and do something—it’s not our call,” he said.
Grimm said the agreement also calls for “integrated damage-management methodologies,” which he interpreted as nonlethal methods to deter depredations.
“It opens up a whole bag of tools,” he said.
However, he said Wildlife Services has not engaged in any nonlethal efforts so far other than investigations of complaints.
The recent contract has been criticized by the nonprofit conservation group Defenders of Wildlife. A Sept. 12 letter from the organization’s president, Jamie Rappaport Clark, asks U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack to terminate it. The letter contends that the state’s goal in providing the money is not to reduce conflicts between predators and livestock, which have been few, but to boost elk populations.
“Given the millions of dollars that the federal government spent to reestablish wolves in the Northern Rockies, Wildlife Services should not be allowed to help Idaho accelerate its killing of wolves, merely because they are relying on their natural prey base, ungulates.”
Clark also contended that if the Department of Agriculture allows the contract to proceed, it is required by the National Environmental Policy Act to carry out an environmental impact study.
According to the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, the number of wolves in Idaho reached a high of 856 in 2009. There were an estimated 659 wolves in Idaho at the end of 2013, including 20 breeding pairs. The department documented 473 wolf mortalities last year, of which 356 were killed by hunters and trappers, and 94 by Wildlife Services and ranchers.
Under the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s 2009 delisting rule, the agency would consider placing wolves back on the endangered species list if their numbers fall below 150 animals or 15 breeding pairs for three consecutive years in Idaho or Montana.