Friday, August 04, 2006

Feds aim to kill six more wolves

Control measures sparked by livestock depredations

by STEVE BENSON

With Idaho's wolf population growing and packs expanding into new areas, livestock depredations are on the rise and six more animals have been ordered to their deaths. But the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, which is now partially responsible for wolf management in the state, believes it's closer to assuming full management of the federally protected animals, and future conflicts could be mitigated.

Fourteen federally protected wolves have been killed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Wildlife Services—the federal agency responsible for killing problem animals—in Idaho so far this year. Ranchers, who are now allowed to shoot and kill wolves they witness attacking or harassing their livestock, have killed an additional nine animals in 2006. Since July 22, four wolves have been killed by Wildlife Services in Central Idaho, including one in Copper Basin, in Custer County.

Earlier this week, federal agents were ordered to track and kill six more wolves suspected of attacking cattle and sheep. Three animals are in the Steel Mountain Pack, located near the headwaters of the Boise River. One is located near Mountain Home. Another is just east of Cascade. The last is in Copper Basin, east of Sun Valley.

More than 600 wolves now roam Idaho after 35 were reintroduced to the central part of the state in 1995 and 1996. Steve Nadeau, Idaho Department of Fish and Game's wolf program supervisor, said the current population is "five to six times the number of wolves necessary for de-listing" from the federal Endangered Species List.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service handed over day-to-day management of wolves in Idaho to Fish and Game in January 2006. The state agency can control conflicts but can't reduce populations, which is still handled by federal Wildlife Services agents. Opening wolves to hunting, another population-reducing measure that Nadeau said he favors, also can't be enacted until the animals are removed from the list, a process that is being held up by the state of Wyoming.

State agencies in Idaho and Montana have wolf management plans deemed acceptable by U.S. Fish and Wildlife. Wyoming, however, wants to list the animal as a predatory species, meaning it can be killed on-sight outside wilderness areas—a plan that doesn't gel with federal goals.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has been adamant that the animal will remain federally protected until all three states devise acceptable wolf management plans.

But Nadeau said Idaho Fish and Game officials have been meeting with regional and national directors from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to discuss the possibility of de-listing wolves in Idaho and Montana. "There is some positive discussion going on currently with potentially de-listing wolves along state boundaries," Nadeau said. "It could occur if Wyoming doesn't want to come on board. "We know (U.S. Fish and Wildlife) is interested and taking it seriously, but we don't have a time frame yet."

Nadeau said wolf-control measures will continue to rise if the population isn't thinned, which he said could be done effectively via a hunting season. "With wolves increasing in number and distribution, they're showing up in areas they haven't been previously and, as such, are causing problems in new areas," Nadeau said.

The problem isn't limited to livestock depredations, as conflicts between wolf advocates and opponents continue to rise. In early May, cultures clashed in Stanley after a wolf attacked and killed an elk in broad daylight near town. With a crowd of wolf supporters watching, Ron Gillett, chairman of the Idaho Anti-Wolf Coalition, showed up on the scene carrying a rifle.

Gillett is on a mission to rid the state of wolves, which he considers dangerous, bloodthirsty animals that are devouring the state's elk herds and threatening the safety of children. Gillett said he was on private property and was carrying the rifle as protection. The conflict ended peacefully, but Gillett said, "It's going to be a long summer—there will probably be a lot of wolves shot."

Nadeau said Fish and Game has been keeping a close watch on the situation. "The Stanley Basin area is a constant concern for the department," Nadeau said. "We've been involved in non-lethal efforts up there throughout the summer." Those non-lethal efforts include "hazing and scaring wolves to keep them separate from livestock," he said.

  • Idaho Mountain Express
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