- U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
According to new numbers from the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, the Lolo elk population in northern Idaho has declined from 16,000 animals 25 years ago to fewer than 1,000 today. The biggest factor limiting elk population, the agency stated, has been predation, including by wolves.
In an effort to help bring up elk numbers, Fish and Game—with help from USDA Wildlife Services—killed 20 wolves from a helicopter last week.
Along with the wolf kill, Fish and Game upped the number of available black bear and mountain lion hunting permits, reduced rifle hunting of bull elk by half and eliminated rifle hunting of cows.
"Restoring the Lolo elk population will require continued harvest of black bears, mountain lions and wolves along with wolf control actions when needed," Fish and Game stated in a news release.
The agency said it prefers to rely on hunters and trappers to manage wolf populations, but if the harvest isn't meeting management goals Fish and Game must shoot or remove the wolves itself.
Hunters and trappers have taken 20 wolves in the Lolo zone so far in the 2015-2016 season but steep, rugged terrain and winter conditions make the area difficult to access. The trapping season ends Thursday, March 31 and the hunting season ends Thursday, June 30.
Fish and Game ran afoul of federal wildlife managers in January after capturing and collaring four wolves in a wilderness area. Officials said a miscommunication resulted in Fish and Game crews collaring wolves rather than elk in the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness. The wolves were released unharmed and the deputy director of the agency made a formal apology to the public.
In response, the United States Forest Service issued a formal notice of noncompliance, letting Fish and Game know if it ever wants to use helicopters again in the wilderness area, it better not make such a mistake in the future.
This is the fifth year of wolf control in the Lolo zone. Hunters killed 19 wolves in the area in 2014 and 23 in 2013.