Idaho Commissioners OK Wolf Proposal in Lolo

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Idaho wildlife managers want to continue to pursue a proposal to reduce the wolf population in two Clearwater Region game management units.

The Idaho Fish and Game Commission, during their recent meeting in Lewiston, approved a proposal by the Department of Fish and Game to continue research into the effects of wolf predation on elk survival in the Clearwater Region.

Earlier this year, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which must approve the proposal, said Fish and Game did not provide enough data to justify the proposal that calls for killing up to 43 wolves in the Lolo elk management zone.

"They haven't said no," Fish and Game wildlife bureau chief Jim Unsworth told commissioners. "That's where we are now."

A portion of the Endangered Species Act changed in 2005, allows the state to reduce the wolf population in areas where wolves are having an unacceptable effect on wildlife, and if the state can show the decline is primarily caused by wolf predation.

The department proposal made clear that the state's preference would be to regulate wolf numbers through regulated hunting, but absent the ability to hunt wolves, the department proposed reducing the wolf population in the Lolo zone, where elk numbers have been declining.

Department research suggests that wolf predation on adult female elk is preventing the herd from increasing. The project would kill up to 43 wolves and maintain a lower population at 25 to 40 percent of current numbers for five years.

The proposal was peer-reviewed and submitted for public comment before the department submitted it to the Fish and Wildlife Service earlier this year. Unsworth wants to continue to gather data and monitor elk in the Lolo zone to support earlier research and to resubmit the proposal to Fish and Wildlife.

"We have a place for wolves in Idaho, and they're doing fine there," Unsworth said. But the Lolo zone is one place where the department should be doing some management. If the elk decline were caused by hunters, the department would have taken action three years ago, he said.

The commissioners expressed their frustration with the delay in delisting wolves in Idaho, and authorized Unsworth to continue to gather data and to resubmit the proposal next spring. They also told the department to do everything it can to urge the Fish and Wildlife Service to remove wolves in Idaho from the endangered species list as soon as possible.