By Bob Smathers
Bonners Ferry--Jim Hayden from the Panhandle office of Idaho Fish and Game spoke to about 60 people at the Boundary County Farm Bureau annual banquet in Bonners Ferry on November 20. His topic was wolf population and wolf management. Jim said that wolf populations since their introduction by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have been quite impressive.
Thirty five wolves were introduced into Idaho in the 1995/1996 time period and the numbers in 2007 stood at around 732 statewide. This number was reported in the January 15, 2007 report. With growth rates of around 25% per year, the numbers could be in the 800 to 900 range when counts come out again in mid January, 2008.
“In the Panhandle region, there were 6 documented wolf packs in 2007 and in 2008 that number has grown to 15 packs” says Mr. Hayden. He also said that there are only 4 collared wolves out of 130 wolves in the Panhandle and that has made it difficult to get a good handle on population. Estimates on wolf numbers in the Panhandle region last year were around 30 to 40 wolves and officials are confident that those numbers could be in the 130 range in the 2009 report.
“Some of what could be inflating these Panhandle numbers are wolves from Canada and Montana that are moving in.” said Hayden. He went on to say that a wolf for every 10 square miles of habitat is considered optimal and that given this “rule of thumb”, the panhandle region could support substantially higher numbers than 130 wolves that are here now.
Mr. Hayden also talked about wolf depredation on livestock and other animals and indicated that there are probably 7 to 8 times more animals killed by wolves than are documented. “It is impossible to investigate every loss reported by ranchers because not all kills can even be found and even if they are, the kills are often too old to document the cause,” says Hayden.
He indicated that there are compensation programs for ranchers through Defenders of Wildlife for confirmed and probable losses. Confirmed wolf kills are reimbursed at 100% of loss and probable wolf kills are reimbursed at 50% of loss. For those losses that are probable, livestock owners can get additional compensation from the office of species conversation to cover some or all of the remaining 50 percent, but their budget is only $100,000. “On average, the office of Species Conservation is paying out about $.30 on the dollar” says Hayden. He also indicated that Defenders of Wildlife money could disappear at any time.
There have been 124 wolves killed so far in 2008. Eighty of these confirmed kills were done by wildlife services, 13 by ranchers under the 10J rule and 31 were from other means like road kills etc. Five years ago, the confirmed wolf mortality was 15 animals. Mr. Hayden said there are higher numbers of wolves being taken out now, but the population is substantially higher too.
“Idaho Fish and Game needs to manage wolves and soon” says Hayden.
Once wolves are delisted, they will be managed according to wildlife conflicts and ungulate impacts. Idaho Fish and game will shoot for somewhere between 518 and 732 wolves. Hunting seasons will not stop until quotas are reached and controlled hunts will be used if necessary. There could possibly be trapping allowed. Poisons will not be allowed to control wolves and neither will aerial hunting be allowed. Aerial means could be used by state game officials for state population control in areas where livestock conflicts are high and/or where ungulate populations are suffering.
Jim Hayden is hopeful that delisting will occur in 2009. He anticipates a delisting announcement by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife in mid-December followed by a 30 day comment period, then delisting occurring in January. In summary, he said that Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming acknowledge that wolves are here to stay and we are going to have to manage them.