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For the week of January 24 through 30, 2001

Wolves miss delisting mark

Illegal killings blamed

"Illegal take in the past has also affected the number of wolves, but this year they happened to kill breeding pairs." 

- Ed Bangs, tri-state area wolf recovery leader for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Express Staff Writer

At the end of the fifth year of gray wolf recovery efforts in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming, 410 wolves, including about 25 breeding pairs, occupy the three-state recovery area.

That’s not quite enough to begin the three-year countdown toward federal delisting of the animals. In order to be removed from the Endangered Species Act (ESA), the wolves must maintain 30 breeding pairs for three consecutive years.

"It just didn’t make that 30 mark," said Ed Bangs, tri-state area wolf recovery leader for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. "Illegal killings probably put us below the 30 pair. If we hadn’t had that, we’d probably be at 30 or above."

In early November, Bangs predicted this might be the first year of the three-year countdown.

"Somebody deciding to shoot a wolf could make the difference of this making the first year of the countdown or not," he said in November. "We’re that close."

Some Idaho wolves were, in fact, shot since then.

Wolves were illegally killed in each of the three recovery states during the past year, and most recently near Fairfield. Two members of the Big Smoky Pack were shot just north of the town late this fall and early winter. They were the pack’s breeding pair, Bangs said.

"Illegal take in the past has also affected the number of wolves," he said, "but this year they happened to kill breeding pairs."

Idaho has fewer breeding pairs now than it did at the end of 1998 (10 at the end of 1998 versus nine now), primarily due to illegal killing of the animals. During the same time period, Idaho’s total wolf numbers jumped from 114 to 185.

"If somebody kills a wolf, all they are doing is keeping them on the ESA longer," he said.

Wild gray wolves were reintroduced to Idaho in 1995 and 1996 by the Fish and Wildlife Service under the ESA. Wolves were also reintroduced in Yellowstone National Park in those years.

In 1995 and 1996, 35 gray wolves were set free in Idaho. By the end of 1998, their numbers climbed to about 115, and the most recent counts indicate about 185 wolves.

Idaho wolves are under federal control, but jurisdiction will be transferred to the state when they are taken off the ESA. Before delisting transpires, however, Idaho, Montana and Wyoming must have wolf management plans ready to implement that ensure the continued survival of wolves above the minimum species survival levels set by the federal government.

A Wolf Oversight Committee appointed by the Idaho Legislature has been working on a state plan for the past year, and the state’s lawmakers are slated to take a look at the plan during this winter’s session.


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