BOISE – The Idaho Fish and Game Commission has made a decision that could clear the way for wolf hunting in Idaho.
Commissioners officially designated wolves as a big game animal at its last meeting.
Idaho is moving toward removing wolves from endangered species protection.
The decision to take gray wolves from endangered species status to big game only applies to Idaho. But Idaho Fish and Game says removing the wolf from the federal Endangered Species List is still a few years away.
Wolves were no longer part of the Idaho ecosystem until a government plan was hatched to bring them back. Nearly a decade ago 35 wolves were reintroduced into the central Idaho wilderness. Today, there are almost 400 wolves living here.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said that is more than enough wolves to get the predators off the federal Endangered Species List.IDFG Wildlife Chief Jim Unsworth says the state is prepared to take over wolf management.
"Our plan has been ready to go for a couple years. We got approval from the legislature that Fish and Game can start working on wolves and we are," Unsworth said. Idaho’s management plan, along with Montana’s plan, was approved by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, but the federal agency did not approve a wolf plan for Wyoming.
"We worked very hard on it, and quite honestly were surprised that it was rejected." says Larry Kruchenberg with Wyoming’s Fish and Game department.
The state agency says it can't do anything until the Wyoming Legislature changes the law.
"They said wolf de-listing could not move forward until Wyoming changed its plans to address concerns it had," Kruchenberg said.
Federal officials say they are looking at giving Idaho and Montana more state authority, meaning it could handle problems between livestock and wolves.
"This gives them a little more flexibility in their area that they can take action to protect their livestock," Unsworth said.
He said within the next five years hunters could be buying wolf tags.
"A few years down the road we will be able to hold season and hunt wolves just like bears and lions," Unsworth said.
Idaho Conservation League spokesman Justin Hays said that is good because it means wolf recovery is working, but bad if the state rushes into it wolf management.
"We support the idea of phased approach where the states can learn how to manage wolves, develop the authorities and resources and staffing to manage this species," Hays said.
"We would love to get to the point where we could manage them like other big game animals and the controversy could subside," Unsworth said.
[ This Message was edited by: captchee on 2004-04-06 08:16 ]