Now, the state has racked up another historical footnote by adopting its first wolf hunting season—much to the displeasure of conservation groups.
At its meeting on May 22, the Idaho Fish and Game Commission limited the number of wolves that can be killed or die in the state this year to 428. The number includes all wolves that die from natural causes or accidents, are killed by Fish and Game because of conflicts with livestock and those harvested by the Nez Perce tribe and hunter kills.
Officials estimate there are now roughly 732 wolves in Idaho. If the 20 to 30 percent growth rate seen in the past continues, there will be more than 1,000 wolves in the state by the time the hunting season starts this fall.
Officials are using mortality limits to set hunting levels in 12 different zones across the state. If their estimates are correct, the wolf population in Idaho would be less than 550 wolves—close to the 518 target Fish and Game managers are hoping for.
The hunting season will begin Sept. 15 for backcountry hunters and on Oct. 1 in all other designated hunting areas. The season is set to run through Dec. 31, but could be extended if hunters aren't successful early in the season. That decision will be made by the Fish and Game Commission in November.
If the quota is reached early, the season will end immediately.
The number of tags in each hunting zone will depend on the amount of conflict between wolves and wildlife or livestock, as well as the wolf population in each area.
All hunters must have both a valid 2008 hunting license and a wolf tag. The tag entitles the hunter to take one wolf, each kill must be reported to Fish and Game within 72 hours, and the hunter must check in with the department within 10 days.
Traps, electronic devices, bait or tracking dogs will not be allowed this year, but Fish and Game officials left room to adjust that policy in the future.
Wolves in Idaho can already be shot by land or livestock owners if the wolves are molesting wildlife or pets (BW, News, "Free and Clear," April, 23, 2008), but all kills must be reported to the state and investigated.
While the announcement pleased hunters, conservation groups were upset.
The debate over wolves in the West has never been without controversy (BW, Features, "Prodigal Son," Feb. 27, 2008).
A group of 12 conservation groups filed suit in federal court one month after the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife declared wolves recovered in the Rocky Mountain area, removing them from federal protection (BW, News Shorts, "Wolf Suit," April 30, 2008).
The groups, which include the Sierra Club, The Humane Society of the United States, the Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance, Cascadia Wildlands Project, Defenders of Wildlife and the Natural Resources Defense Council, claim the state management plans don't do enough to protect wolves.
They also assert that the states will cut the wolf population down to a point that it will endanger the survival of the species.
The suit, filed in Montana, seeks to reverse the delisting and return wolves to federal protection until Idaho and Wyoming can come up with management plans the groups can agree to. Montana's plan has yet to be formally adopted by the state's legislature.
A federal judge is expected to hear the case later this week, first ruling on whether to grant an immediate injunction of state management.