Wolves in the Panhandle
Love em or hate em we got em! Since we don't have a lot of free-ranging livestock up here in northern Idaho most of the concern is from sportsmen and the impact wolves are having on our big game herds. We need to all keep in mind that just like the other large predators (bears and mountain lions, both of which greatly out-number wolves in the Panhandle) wolves kill deer and elk. The real question is to what degree are they impacting the status of our herds.
Probably the easiest thing to look at is hunter success. If you look at the number of elk harvested in the Panhandle compared with the number of hunters it will give us a good idea how our elk are faring. If we look at the number of elk checked through the Panhandle Mandatory Elk Check clear back through 1982 compared with the hunter numbers the average hunter success rate over all those years is a little over 13%. Using the same method the hunter success rate in 2003 was just over 17%. That doesn't sound very high and there are lots of places to hunt elk that typically produce higher hunter success rates. But that's the reality of hunting elk in the Panhandle where we have some of the thickest cover of any place that has an elk season.
Just because the 2003 hunter success rate is one of the highest ever (even before we had wolves and before the bad winter of 1997) that doesn't mean wolves aren't killing deer and elk. They are. That's a fact. In a couple locations where we know we have had resident wolf packs for the last several years we have been able to assess how the local elk population has recovered since the bad winter of 1997. Those areas have seen steady increases in elk harvest, indicating that the elk populations have increased, despite the presence of wolves. Based on the elk harvest it appears that these areas have not recovered as quickly or to the extent of areas without resident wolves although that is a bit tougher to calculate. The confusing factor being that the hunter numbers appear to be lower in those areas than they used to be.
The bottom line is we do have wolves and they do kill big game animals. Where resident wolf packs have become established, elk herds appear to be growing but at a slower pace than where there are no wolves. Based on recent hunter success rates the elk populations across the Panhandle are doing quite well. If you encounter wolves or run on to wolf sign please give us a call. We certainly don't claim to know about each and every wolf, single or pack, that could be roaming around north Idaho. In order to keep tabs on wolves we'll need the eyes and ears of all the sportsmen in the field just like we do for all the other wildlife out there.