Idaho's rugged mountains may be the only thing that keeps hunters and state wildlife operatives from shooting hundreds of wolves in the Gem State.
"There's not going to be mass slaughter," said Cal Groen, the newly-minted director of Idaho Fish and Game. "They're a cunning animal. I'm sure it's going to be very difficult."
Nonetheless, Groen said he and his agency, working with hunters across the state, seem ready to try.
The announcement Monday that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was going to begin the year-long process of removing grey wolves from the federal Threatened and Endangered Species list in Idaho, Montana and parts of Wyoming, started plenty of speculation about what an authorized hunt might look like.
First, the price: For a mere $26.50, an Idaho hunter with a hunting license can peg a wolf. That's the number proposed by the state Fish and Game Commission. The price, and the season, would first have to be authorized by the Legislature.
Governor C.L. "Butch" Otter has already said he's ready to shoot a wolf (BW, News, "Fire When Ready," January 24, 2007). He also said he'd like to get the Idaho wolf population down from 650 to about 100, a number below which the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said it would likely re-list the wolf.
"From a manager's viewpoint, that's too thin," Groen said. "We want a margin of safety."
Second, the timeline. Because the de-listing process is a long and arduous one, involving a lengthy public comment period with potential for lawsuits, would-be wolf hunters will have to wait. Groen said he expected the process to take a year as planned.
As to where hunters might be sent to find targets, the Fish and Game's large carnivore manager Steve Nadeau said he expects to concentrate hunting in seven so-called "high conflict" areas, such as the Copper Basin near Mackay, where he said wolves caused problems with livestock.
"We had wolf problems there even when we only had 100 wolves," Nadeau said. "We will be aggressive in some areas."
The news dismayed conservationists.
"Today should be a day of celebration and recognition of the commitment our nation has made to the recovery of wolves in the northern Rocky Mountains," said Rodger Schlickeisen from Defenders of Wildlife. "But instead, we must sound the alarm bells because, with one stroke of a pen, the Bush administration has announced they plan to hand over management of gray wolves to states whose main goal is to exterminate wolves."
Boise's first public hearing on the matter is March 6, at the Centre on the Grove at 850 W. Front St. Officials will present the plan from 3 to 5 p.m., then take public comments from 6 to 8 p.m.