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You are here: Home ›› Blog ›› 2012 Blog Archive ›› And Then the Topic of Wolves Comes Up...

And Then the Topic of Wolves Comes Up...

Posted by John Robison at Mar 20, 2012 03:45 AM |

The Idaho Department of Fish and Game is considering expanding the wolf harvest again for next year. We are concerned that this may ultimately lead to destabilizing the population and potentially relisting the species.

And Then the Topic of Wolves Comes Up...

Gray wolf. Courtesy of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The Idaho Department of Fish and Game (IDFG) and the Commissioners that guide the agency are highly regarded wildlife professionals who base their management decisions on sound science. 

And then the topic of wolves comes up . . . .

Depending on your perspective, IDFG is then full of either "animal-rights activists" for not killing enough wolves or "anti-wolf extremists" for hunting them in the first place. Given the fact that the department is largely funded by hunters who view wolves as competition to be eliminated, in my non-neutral position I perceive a distinct bias toward whacking wolves. 

I, myself, think that predators are pretty cool and nothing represents the sound of Idaho's wilderness better than the howl of a wolf. 

At 7 pm this Wednesday, March 21, at the IDFG office in Boise, the Commission is going to be taking public comment on a proposal to expand the number of wolves that can be hunted from two to five per calendar year. 

While the head of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recently praised Idaho's wolf hunt, cumulative effects of expanded hunting regulations and other factors like disease may lower the population more than expected. The Idaho Conservation League is concerned that given the reporting time lag, a large number of wolves could be killed before Fish and Game can close an area to protect the remaining wolves. An overly aggressive strategy could ultimately result in relisting the species. 

It's not as if the current hunting regulations aren't liberal enough. This year, approximately 400 wolves have been killed out of an estimated 1,000 total. 

Wolf advocates are going to be meeting at IDFG at 6 pm on Wednesday to sign up to testify on behalf of wolves. See Wildlife News article and accompanying comments here.  

The Commissioners have the tough job of trying to listen to science rather than emotion. But, given the amount of material on IDFG's website on wolf hunting vs. wolf tourism (the Commissioners suspended the plan that included wolf watching), I would say they still have some work to do to strike a proper balance. We will be watching this next decision closely. 

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Woves in Idaho

Posted by Roy Heberger at Mar 20, 2012 06:56 PM
A good report from John Robison on the subject in relation to IDFG and the Commission. I to will be watching, both here in Idaho and as to the directions FWS takes as to Wyoming's plan.

My concerns are fundamental to the ESA's five listing factors, in particular Factor D relating to the adequacy of existing regulatory mechanisms.

Quite some time back I'd visited with the current IDFG director on the matter, as I have with the current FWS Director prior to his appointment. I'm not sure that I was successful at getting my message across.

A question -- How do predator harvests in Idaho compare?

Wolves in Idaho

Posted by Isaiah Grose at Mar 21, 2012 04:50 PM
Please include both sides when posting, and get a real number, not approximations. Pretty easy to go to IDF&G site for the number.

Also, you are conveniently leaving out important data that is relevant to this discussion. Specifically, "Wolf Tourism", talking about dollars injected into local economies from people only coming to see the mighty wolf.

Lets not forget the dollars FORMERLY spent not only in local economies, but in IDF&G revenues by out of state hunters. Lets also not forget the FORMER revenues from people who used to go to Yellowstone to see the vast herds of elk, that they can't see anymore. I think if this were further researched, the dollars lost to those factors would far surpass the "Wolf Tourism" monies.

You also say that "The Idaho Conservation League is concerned that given the reporting time lag, a large number of wolves could be killed before Fish and Game can close an area to protect the remaining wolves." Do you have any evidence that would lead you to this concern? I think a vast majority of hunters are reporting as soon as they harvest, or as required, and I sincerely doubt there is ANY issue with overharvesting an area. IDF&G biologists should be able to confirm or deny if this is indeed a "concern".

Further, "perceive a distinct bias toward whacking wolves". Again, I see no factual evidence to support that bias. Try to get some facts to support your bias, and you may draw a better case.

Wolf numbers

Posted by John Robison at Mar 22, 2012 03:21 AM
As of the end of February, 237 wolves were taken by hunting, 95 taken by trapping and snaring and 14 by Wildlife Services for a total of 346. This does not count road kills and other mortalities which haven't been updated since November 2011. And the hunting season isn't over yet.[…]/

Regarding reduced dollars caused by reductions in elk numbers, elk populations are actually meeting or exceeding objectives in 20 of 29 elk hunt zones. While some of the areas with low elk numbers have high wolf numbers, there are several areas with high wolf numbers and high elk numbers.

Elk behaviors and habits have changed due to wolves, but the hunters who have adapted their own tactics accordingly still managed to fill their freezers (there was a 23% overall success rate this last year).[…]/

Bottom line: healthy habitat = healthy wildlife numbers, for both prey and predators. In places like the Lolo Zone, elk numbers starting dropping well before wolves arrived in part to changes in habitat and harsh winter. Many hunters agree with us that wolves deserve a place in the wilderness:[…]/predators-backcountry-and-their-future

Folks are still going to Yellowstone, and are still seeing elk, along with increased numbers of songbirds, beavers and cottonwoods, thanks to wolves.[…]/

We support the state management of wolves. We realize that this means having a hunting season. But we stand by our concern that the current approach may not be sustainable over the long run and that it bears watching closely.

Under the proposed bag limits, one person would be able to take as many as 15 wolves in a 10-month period. This hunting plan includes harvesting wolves in key corridors and places needed for genetic exchange (a requirement for delisting)[…]/proposal-would-raise-idaho-wolf-kill-rate

So far we have not seen the State, Commissioners or Fish and Game truly treat wolves as a trophy big game animal. Fish and Game has stated they plan to manage wolves similar to black bears and mountain lions. However, Fish and Game maintains roughly 20,000 black bears and 2,000 mountain lions, without halving the population every year (keep in mind that these critters eat elk, too). The Commissioners rejected the 2008 Wolf Management Plan that called for managing 732-518 wolves in favor of a plan with a 150 minimum number.

While there are many tools to reduce depredations, Fish and Game and Wildlife Services have emphasized lethal control over non-lethal control.

So on the spectrum between idolizing wolves and whacking them, I would say that Fish and Game is still emphasizing lethal control. The question is can Fish and Game start recognizing the ecological (and economic) benefits of having wolves and incorporate this perspective into their management plan.


Latest harvest numbers

Posted by John Robison at Mar 23, 2012 11:41 AM
This is a link to the latest harvest numbers (not including natural mortalities or harvest by Wildlife Services):

Commissioners approve more aggressive wolf hunt

Posted by John Robison at Mar 23, 2012 12:19 PM
This year's plan includes the following:

- Increasing bag limits to five wolf tags for hunters and five for trappers in five northern hunting zones.

- Extending season length on private land in a northern Idaho hunting zone and on public land in two zones in eastern Idaho.

- Expanding bag limits in two hunting zones and adding trapping to two hunting units in central Idaho.

Read more here:[…]/idaho-officials-hike-bag-limits.html

Great references, few facts

Posted by Isaiah Grose at Mar 27, 2012 11:03 AM
I see nothing wrong with how our biologists and game department are managing wolves. Yes, even with all of the articles you posted. I doubt the wolf number is being halved. Just because an old study said there were 1000 estimated, doesn't mean that is how many there are. There are several citations from current ID F&G that say that is a low number, and could be as many as 2000. I hike a lot of backcountry, and have yet to see a wolf. That doesn't mean they aren't there, because I see plenty of tracks and other sign. The point is that there are likely far more than are estimated.

Yes people still go to yellowstone. Yes people still see elk in yellowstone. However, when I went there in 1995, there were thousands of elk. Large herds with large bulls everywhere you went. The rut was on and it was magnificent. Moose too, in several of the rivers and ponds. Deer, not as many but smaler groups roaming the timber edges. Two years ago I went to yellowstone in the fall, during the rut, and I saw one bull, near Madison. I won't go back. I agree elk have changed their habits, and I agree there are still elk there. but the FACT is that the size of the herd HAS decreased substantially.

"In 1995, the year wolves were reintroduced to the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, the northern Yellowstone elk herd numbered 16,791.
In 2009, biologists counted 6,070 elk in the herd.
Last month, biologists counted 4,635 elk.
All told, the elk population has declined by 70 percent in the 16 years since wolf reintroduction."


And that article is more than a year old. I can see a flipping songbird on my porch. I can drive 20 miles and see a beaver. You really think people go all the way to Yellowstone to see cottonwoods? Did you bump your head? I go to yellowstone to see big game, bison, elk, deer, moose, sheep, bears, (yes even wolves) etc. So I guess it is okay to reduce an elk herd by 70%, but its not okay to cut wolf populations in any form.

What difference does it make if fewer people kill more wolves? ID F&G is going for an overall number by zone. I don't see where allowing people to buy more tags will make a difference. should not be used as an example of the Lolo zone. The site you listed is a blog. No factual evidence there. Besides that, the article was written after a trip to the Frank Church, in the Salmon River Mountains, not the Lolo.

I have no problem with finding and harvesting an elk every year. I agree that as their habits change, we hunters have to do the same. However, I see no refute by you that I have SEEN WITH MY OWN EYES calf elk numbering around 1 per 5 cows. This is too low a number for a healthy, sustainable herd.

Yes, mountain lion and bears kill elk, but not nearly in the numbers wolves do. If a cougar is lucky enough to drag down an elk, it stays there for several days and eats the whole thing. A bear is the same way. Again, I have SEEN WITH MY OWN EYES 5 elk killed in a row, within 100 yards of each other, some partially eaten, others not touched. A cougar or bear would not do that. After 1 kill, they are spent. You are avoiding the fact that wolves do occasionally kill for the sake of it, not necessarily because they are hungry. So that is 5 elk that not only do not go on, but if they were pregnant, their calves do not increase the herd size either.

Wolves kill 120 sheep at ranch near Dillon

Read more:[…]c4c03286.html#ixzz1q0HgA8xU[…]11de-9aca-001cc4c03286.html

I like the way you pick out what fits your frame of mind. Pulling the 23% out of the same article that says "That doesn’t diminish the fact there are large portions of the central part of the state where elk populations are down." and "ID F&G attribute(s) the increase to favorable weather last hunting season that brought snow to some areas and drove elk out of the high country, or just made them easier to hunt."

What exactly is "non-lethal controls"? You gonna round up the trouble makers and send to the lolo, where human populations are low and so are elk numbers? You gonna send the wolves through a therapy course that changes them from a wolf to a weasel? Maybe convice them that elk taste like tree bark?

Look. A wolf is a wolf. It does as nature intended, and does it well. Trying to take a hit at state agencies for doing everything they can to BALANCE the scales on wolves and ungulates doesn't help their case. By my count, if there were 2000 wolves in Idaho, and 368 killed to date, that is a reduction of 18.4%. "In the first 5 years post reintroduction (1996-2000), the average annual wolf population growth was 34%, in the next five years (2001-2005) it was 27%" ([…]/). So by those numbers, even with the "nearly 400 killed" the population will still increase. Even if it doesn't increase, and does go down, the bottom number for managers is will never be 150. Idaho is too big. The fact that so many wolves were killed this season tells me that there are far more than biologists originally thought.

Get off your high horse and let the biologists and managers do their job. It's a tough one and they are doing it well.

A wolf is a wolf

Posted by John Robison at Apr 04, 2012 11:12 AM
I agree with many of these observations. However, there may be some confusion regarding ICL's position on wolves. The Idaho Conservation League supports state management of wolves using sound science. But at times the recommendations of Fish and Game biologists have been rejected. This happened when the Fish and Game Commission set a goal of 518-732 wolves for the the 2008 Wolf Population Management Plan and then lowered that to a minimum of 15 breeding pairs and 150 wolves.

We want to make sure that management decisions are based on science. In part, my job is to make sure the biologists can do their job.

The actual number of wolves is a subject of great debate on both sides of the issue:[…]/

Yes, wolves do sometimes kill more than they eat, but this is very much the exception rather than the rule. When folks come across "abandoned" kills, if you wait and watch the pack almost always returns over the coming weeks to work on the kill.

As far as Yellowstone's elk herds, the wolves there have also reached their carrying capacity and the population has declined by 60% in some areas.

It will be interesting to see how the prey and predator populations fluctuate over time.

Like all wildlife management, non-lethal control is not a "one-size-fits-all" approach, but can be an extremely effective tool in particular situations (and this is according to the ranchers).

The bottom line is wolves are a part of Idaho's wildlife and, like other wildlife, need to be managed professionally. Ideally, this should leave enough room for both wolf watchers and wolf hunters.- John Robison, Public Lands Director

Bad numbers

Posted by Isaiah Grose at Apr 10, 2012 11:06 AM
Obviously, to anyone with ANY common sense at all, the numbers on the article are skewed to meet the voice of the author.

I think the writer is initially trying to figure out just what numbers are accurate, and I think that is a noble task, but the final number on that article being "somewhere below 562" is obviously flawed. To date, this hunting season, there have been 377 legally killed during the hunting and trapping season. By that number, whole packs have been exterminated. Whole regions should be totally VOID of wolves. They are not. Not even close. There are so many in the Lolo and Selway that ID F&G extended the season!

At least we both agree that the numbers are inaccurate, and ACTUAL numbers are impossible to get. Which is why IDF&G uses ESTIMATES. However, I think it does a diservice to wolves, hunters, IDF&G, and everyone else involved in this to use only the MINIMUM numbers to better serve the purpose of creating outrage of significant magnitude and saying that 'wolves are being exterminated!' (not your words, but what I have heard from the pro-wolf crowd like your referenced article, apparently claiming a HUGE reduction in numbers from this hunting season).

A perfect example of skewed numbers lies within the different articles you posted. The MEDIAN pack size in yellowstone in 10.2. Not estimated, IS. The MEDIAN pack size IDF&G uses to ESTIMATE the total number is 6.5. Again, you can put whatever numbers you want to skew the numbers to your agenda.

Apparently you don't see a connection between the sgnificantly reduced number of prey species in Yellowstone and what you call a lower number of wolves there now. They have eaten themselves out of the area. I think it is important to note that it is not said that there are fewer wolves, just that there are fewer WITHIN THE BOUNDARIES. There is no fence around Yellowstone, wolves will travel wherever there is prey. Proof of this is on the yellowstone website itself with the executive summary saying there are 98 wolves inside the park and 499 in the GYA (Greater Yellowstone Area).

You said, "wolves do sometimes kill more than they eat, but this is very much the exception rather than the rule." I beg to differ here. MANY times I have seen multiple kills, never eaten, and never returned to. Not once, not twice, MANY times. More than 50 times, easily. I have seen this evidence myself, so don't tell me it is "very much the exception".

I am glad we can also agree that wolves need to be managed professionally, and I am glad that IDF&G is doing just that. Remeber that starvation is a horrible way to die, and that is how wolves will die when there is no more game to eat. I would not wish that fate upon any animal.

As far as "non-lethal controls", the only one I can think of is transplantation to a zoo. By merely moving animals to a remote area many miles away, you are just kicking the can down the road, and not actually solving the problem. There never will be a 'one-size-fits-all' approach for any problem, anywhere, but I see lethal approaches as the most effective, immediate, and least costly (remember IDF&G has a minimum budget for problems).

Report from the Commissioner's meeting

Posted by John Robison at Apr 10, 2012 11:06 AM
Here's a report from the Commissioner's meeting:[…]/

Seems like we still have a long way to go:

"The Commission was reminded that they did not listen to their own biologists when setting the original population objectives contained in the 2008 IDFG plan which had adopted the objective of maintaining 518-732 wolves. Then they even abandoned that population objective in favor of managing for a vague number of wolves to be determined by unspecified methods somewhere above 15 breeding pairs and 150 wolves."

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