Sunday, February 2, 2020

Comment to Save Idaho Wolves



The Idaho Department of Fish and Game (IDFG) wants to significantly increase the length of wolf hunting seasons throughout the state. Of course, this will also increase the number of wolves killed in Idaho. 

In their proposal supporting this change, IDFG estimates  a peak population of 1541 wolves in the summer of 2019 including the year's pups. IDFG adds, “With current hunting and trapping seasons and agency control actions, wolf predation on livestock and other domestic animals remains persistent in certain areas and would occur if the wolf population expanded in southern Idaho. Wolf predation also continues to have a negative effect on elk populations in some backcountry areas.”

(In a 1/24/20 press release, IDFG reported that since that summer estimate 327 wolves have been killed through human causes and an additional 208 wolves died of natural causes. This puts the current population at a maximum of 1006, a 35% reduction in 4 months.)

At the end of this post is the link where you can comment--regardless of where you live--on the IDFG proposals. But before you go there, please read a bit further. 

You have two options in terms of commenting. You can simply click “Do Not Support” for each proposal. You can also write a comment. 

Since we can comment on their proposals, it’s important to ask: 

Are wolves having such impact on Idaho's livestock and elk that killing more wolves is necessary? 

On August 22, 2019 Idaho Department of Fish and Game issued a press release with the deer and elk hunting outlook for 2019. Since there are no statistics yet for the number of elk or deer taken in 2019, the press release from Roger Phillips, Public Information Supervisor, provides the most recent data on deer and elk hunting in Idaho.

The press release reports: “Idaho deer and elk hunters should see good to excellent hunting for elk and white-tailed deer, and average mule deer hunting in 2019, but that’s likely to vary by location across the state.” 

Hunters have adjusted to elk and deer movement: “Like elk, hunters have adapted and shifted hunting efforts toward ‘front country’ areas where herds are thriving, rather than backcountry and wilderness areas that drew many elk hunters in the past.” 

Hunters are having a heyday. “Idaho elk hunters have recently enjoyed excellent hunting with 22,325 elk taken in 2018, which ranks among the top-10, all-time harvests (ninth).” Fish and Game’s Deer/Elk Coordinator Daryl Meints says, “Elk hunting is good, and it’s been good for a number of years, and I don’t think that’s going to change.” 

Most telling, though is this statement from IDFG:

“The statewide elk harvest has exceeded 20,000 annually for the last five years, which has not happened since the all-time high harvests between 1988-96. There’s no indication that the 2019 harvest won’t be similar to 2018 and continue that trend.”

Remember that 66 wolves were reintroduced into Yellowstone and Central Idaho in 1995 and 1996. Idaho now reports having had a peak of 1541 wolves in the summer of 2019. Even with that many wolves, the elk harvest is as high as it was before wolves were present in significant numbers.  

And this increase in the number of wolves has not led to a decrease in the number of hunters. Even with more wolves in Idaho, the press release reports that the number of hunters has “correspondingly grown as word has gotten out about Idaho’s elk hunting returning to some of its past glory. Hunter numbers have exceeded 100,000 annually over the last five years. The allotment of nonresident elk tags has already sold out in 2019, and it's the third-straight year that has occurred.”  

Wolves are not mentioned as creating a problem for elk herds. In fact, the words “wolf” and “wolves” never appear in this press release. The only mention of a specific predator taking elk was this: “During 2018-19 winter, Fish and Game managers monitored 868 radio collared elk in 21 areas of the state. Adult cow survival was 98 percent and calf survival was 66 percent. The leading cause of mortality for both adult cow elk and calves was mountain lions.”

The press release also describes the elk and deer populations in seven regions of Idaho. Six of the regions report productive numbers of elk often with populations growing or at or above IDFG objectives. Only one, the Clearwater Region, reports problems: “Elk numbers continue to lag in the Lolo and Selway Zones, although some positive signs in calf recruitment levels have been observed in recent years. Populations have also declined in portions of the Elk City and Hells Canyon Zones, resulting in a reduction of hunting opportunities in these zones. Populations appear to be relatively stable in the Dworshak and Palouse Zones."

The challenges for elk in Idaho's Clearwater Region are not due to the presence of wolves. 

Here's how Suzanne Asha Stone, Northern Rockies Wolf Conservationist and Founder of the Idaho Wood River Wolf Project, described in a message to me the history of the Clearwater situation: 

The only places in the state where wolves are accused of having a serious impact on elk are areas where elk were already in significant decline prior to wolves being on the landscape. The Lolo is a perfect example. 

The Lolo district of the Clearwater National Forest became home to the biggest elk herd in the western United States after massive fires occurred there between 1910 and 1934. The fires opened up huge swaths of habitat for elk but over time and with fire suppression the habitat changed and became less supportive of elk.

By the 1970s there was an elk rescue initiative underway in the Lolo and conditions worsened during the 80s. Biologists for the state recognized that habitat was the driving factor for elk decline, but hunters who had grown accustomed to hunting the region's plentiful elk didn’t want to hear that. 

When wolves were reintroduced in the mid-1990s, they became the perfect scapegoat. While elk numbers had decreased to what the changing habitat could sustain, residents and politicians in the area could point to the huge elk numbers that had been there years earlier. Wolves were blamed since they arrived on the scene about the same time that the elk herds reached their lowest numbers.

The state wildlife agency conducted a peer-reviewed analysis and concluded that the wolf population in the region should be reduced to as few wolves as possible. The scientists who reviewed that study disagreed. The scientists countered that unless the habitat was restored it didn’t matter how many wolves were killed; wolves are not the limiting factor.

The press release states that IDFG is meeting or exceeding its elk population goals in 17 of 22 elk zones. 

Based on this 8/22/19 IDFG press release and info from Idaho Wildlife Services and the USDA, here's how I commented on the proposals. Feel free to use this info in your own words to comment.

Proposal 1: This proposal refers to the Panhandle and Clearwater Regions.

“This year,” the 8/22/19 IDFG press release reports, “should be productive for deer and elk in the Panhandle.” I see no reason to lengthen the wolf hunting season in these units. 

“Elk numbers,” the press release reports about Clearwater, “continue to lag in the Lolo and Selway Zones, although some positive signs in calf recruitment levels have been observed in recent years. Populations have also declined in portions of the Elk City and Hells Canyon Zones, resulting in a reduction of hunting opportunities in these zones. Populations appear to be relatively stable in the Dworshak and Palouse Zones.”  

The 8/22/19 IDFG press release reports that IDFG is currently meeting or exceeding its elk population goals in 17 of 22 elk zones. Hunters have shown the ability to go where the elk are. They can hunt in other zones that have more elk. I see no reason to lengthen wolf hunting season in the Clearwater Region. 

Proposal 2: This proposal refers to some units in the Magic Valley region. “Elk numbers,” the 8/22/19 press release says about Magic Valley, “remain strong and are expanding in all elk zones, which puts them at, or above, harvest and population management objectives.” I see no reason to lengthen wolf hunting seasons.

Proposal 3: This proposal refers to some units in the Magic Valley region. “Elk numbers,” the 8/22/19 press release says about Magic Valley, “remain strong and are expanding in all elk zones, which puts them at, or above, harvest and population management objectives.” I see no reason to lengthen wolf hunting seasons.

Proposal 4: No data on the Southeast Region in the 8/22/19 press release.

Proposal 5: This proposal refers to Upper Snake Region. “Elk hunters will be happy to hear,” the 8/22/19 press release says, “that despite the harsh winter conditions and predation, elk herds in the Upper Snake did well last winter. All of the region's elk zones are at or above objective for bulls and cows, so hunters should expect to see a good number of elk similar to the abundance of recent years.” I see no reason to lengthen wolf hunting seasons.

Proposal 6: This proposal refers to the Salmon Region. “Elk populations,” the 8/22/19 press release says, “continue to do well in the Salmon Region, and elk hunting will be good this year. Elk Zones east of U.S. 93 (Beaverhead, Lemhi, and Pioneer) are at or above elk plan objectives…” I see no reason to extend the wolf hunting season.

Proposal 7: This proposal relates to livestock losses. Idaho has more than 2 million cattle and more that 200,000 sheep. From July 1, 2018, to June 30, 2019, Idaho Wildlife Services conducted 264 depredation investigations related to wolf complaints from 136 livestock producers in 17 counties. Of those 264 investigations, 175 involved confirmed wolf depredations, according to Todd Grimm, the Idaho state director of Wildlife Services.

Simple math tells us that wolves took far far less than 1% of Idaho's livestock. I see no reason to extend the wolf hunting season.

General Comments: The Overview at the top of this form reports : "With current hunting and trapping seasons and agency control actions, wolf predation on livestock and other domestic animals remains persistent in certain areas and would occur if the wolf population expanded in southern Idaho. Wolf predation also continues to have a negative effect on elk populations in some backcountry areas." 

However, data from the 8/22/19 IDFG press release does not support the claim that wolves have had a negative effect on elk populations. Data from Idaho Wildlife Services shows that wolves have little effect on livestock, taking far less than 1% of Idaho's livestock. 




Rick Lamplugh writes and photographs to protect wildlife and wild lands.

His bestselling In the Temple of Wolves; its sequel, Deep into Yellowstone; and its prequel, The Wilds of Aging are available signed

His books are also available unsigned or as eBook or audiobook on Amazon.


Photo of Idaho wolf running for its life by IDFG

3 comments:

  1. As ever, Rick, you're on the case. Keep up the great work!

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  2. Thanks for all your hard work ! I love the wolves and I am excited to be a part of the movement to get wolves back here to Colorado. Thank you and keep it up. We have to fight even harder

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