Wolves No Longer Endangered: Back in Crosshairs

On May 5, 2011, The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service delisted the Gray Wolf as an Endangered Species. Idaho resumed its classification of the Gray Wolf as a big game species and began selling wolf tags for $11.50.

1n 1995 and 1996 approximately 66 wolves were reintroduced into the Yellowstone and Central Idaho area. This reintroduction has been completely successful with large increases in the populations of wolves as they establish themselves as the number one predator in the northwest.

Hilary Cooley, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife’s Wolf Coordinator for Idaho, states a minimum of 705 wolves inhabit the state. An Idaho Fish and Game Report states there were a minimum of 835 wolves in Idaho at the end of 2009. Either count represents a significant number of wolves in Idaho where less than two decades previously there were very few if any wolves in most parts of the state.

In 2009, Idaho held its first Wolf hunting season with 135 wolves harvested by hunters and another 94 harvested in response to predation. In 2010, Wolf hunts were suspended after a Federal Judge issued an injunction in support of efforts by conservation groups to stop the hunts.

Wolves are a hot topic almost anywhere in the northwest. The most vocal anti-wolf factions are livestock and sportsmen groups. Livestock groups claim the wolves are or will decimate livestock herds while many sportsmen groups state the wolves are destroying the big game herds especially the elk herds.

Confirmed or suspected Livestock Killed

“Wolf Conservation and Management in Idaho” a report released by the Idaho Fish and Game Department in February, 2010, states there were 98 cattle, 442 sheep, 15 dogs and 2 goats confirmed or suspected to be killed by wolves in 2009.

More Wolves = Less Elk = Less Revenue

Elk hunting is an important revenue source for Idaho and the state attracts hunters from across the country because of its reputation as one of the foremost elk producing areas. Many believe that the healthy wolf populations are threatening elk populations and therefore damaging this reputation.

Cooley, the Wolf Coordinator, states “we can’t expect the same number of ungulates post-wolf as pre-wolf.” She confirms that elk are the number one prey species for the wolves. Obviously the elk herds will be significantly impacted by the wolf population.

The report, “Elk Statewide Progress Report 2009”, released by Idaho Fish and Game in February, 2010, shows that between 77,600 and 98,200 people hunted elk in Idaho from 2001 to 2008. These hunters harvested just fewer than 16,000 elk in 2008 to more than 20,000 three years earlier.

The number of hunters pursuing elk is increasing while the total number of elk harvested continues to decline. This equates to a lower success rate which means the state is becoming less attractive to out-of-state elk hunters pointing to less money in the state revenue coffers. Idaho charges $154 for a nonresident hunting license and another $416 for a nonresident elk tag as compared to $12 and $30 respectively for residents.

Undeniably wolves will negatively affect the population of elk herds wherever they coexist, but many other factors must be considered for causing lower populations including the number of elk harvested by man, the loss of habitat, the severity of preceding winters and other such issues.

Sources:

Idaho Fish and Game “Wolf Conservation and Management in Idaho” Idaho Fish and Game “Elk Statewide Progress Report 2009”

Hilary Cooley, Idaho Wolf and Carnivore Coordinator, US Fish and Wildlife Service