Thursday, August 03, 2006

4 wolves killed after livestock deaths; more killings authorized


BOISE, Idaho -- Federal Wildlife Services agents have shoot-to-kill orders for as many as six more wolves in central Idaho, after killing four wolves in the last two weeks. The targeted wolves were suspected of killing or harassing cattle and sheep in the mountainous region.

The latest killings bring the number of federally protected wolves shot by Wildlife Services officers in 2006 to 14, with another nine killed by ranchers through Tuesday. The ranchers have been allowed to shoot the animals under relaxed rules of engagement in place since early 2005, said Steve Nadeau, the Idaho Department of Fish and Game's wolf specialist.

In all of 2005, 27 wolves were killed legally by officers and ranchers.

Nadeau expects the number of wolf control actions this year to rise, as wolf numbers in the state have grown to 600 since the reintroduction of 35 animals in 1995 and 1996. Idaho and Montana want the animals cleared from Endangered Species Act protections, but the effort has been stymied because neighboring Wyoming's plan to manage wolves hasn't won federal approval.

"We're finding wolves in new areas now, where we haven't had them previously. They're taking sheep or cattle, so we're having to address that," Nadeau said. "The number of wolves being taken seems to be increasing, and this year will be no exception to that."

Since January, Idaho has had day-to-day management over central Idaho wolves, listed as "experimental, nonessential." The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service still manages wolves north of U.S. Interstate 90, where the animals are listed as "endangered."

On July 22, Wildlife Services, the division of the U.S. Department of Agriculture that kills problem wolves for Fish and Game, shot a black sub-adult wolf from the Steel Mountain pack, located near the headwaters of the Boise River. Traps remain, with the aim of removing another three wolves suspected in nearby livestock deaths, Nadeau said.

On July 27, Wildlife Services agents shot another black wolf from the air that had been suspected of stalking livestock in Custer County's Copper Basin.

That same day, officers shot one female wolf from the Blue Bunch pack that roams near the Salmon River after it approached them while they were outfitting the pack's alpha female with a radio collar. And July 28, a young male wolf was shot by agents about 40 miles from Idaho City, where wolves three days earlier had killed five lambs.

Govs. Jim Risch of Idaho and Brian Schweitzer of Montana met with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Director Dale Hall on July 24, urging him to consider their proposal that would allow wolves in both states to be delisted even before the dispute over Wyoming's plan has been settled.

Idaho's wolves have been reproducing at a rate of 20 percent a year, said Nadeau, which would mean they'd number about 720 after next spring's pups. There are now more than 40 packs here, nearly three times what's called for under the state's 2002 management plan.

Idaho eventually wants to sell licenses to hunt wolves, but can't until after delisting.

"Idaho has met its obligation," Risch, a rancher who says he's lost cattle to wolves, told The Associated Press last week. "They are becoming a nuisance - and then some."

Phone calls to Defenders of Wildlife in Boise, a wolf-advocacy group that fears state Fish and Game officials are too eager to kill wolves to be able to manage them properly, weren't immediately returned for comment.