By TOM HASSLINGER/Staff writer
COEUR d’ALENE – United States Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services agents shot and killed 14 North Idaho wolves from a helicopter earlier this month, the Idaho Fish and Game Department announced.
The controlled action hunt was part of a continued effort to reduce excess predation on elk herds in the Lolo zone, the IDFG said in a press release issued Wednesday.
“The Lolo zone is a pretty remote area,” Jim Unsworth, IDFG deputy director, told The Press. “We weren’t seeing the results we wanted from hunting and trapping alone, that’s why we issued the control.”
Controlled action is not recreational hunting, which doesn’t allow hunting wolves from the air.
IDFG has been monitoring elk, moose and wolf populations in the Lolo zone, which sits south of Coeur d’Alene, and elk numbers there have fallen short of objectives in recent years.
According to IDFG studies, predation is the most important factor limiting elk. Wolves have been identified as the primary cause of death in female elk and calves over 6 months old, Unsworth said.
“We’d like to see one of Idaho’s premier elk populations recover as much as possible,” he said.
The Lolo zone borders Montana and includes the northern section of the Clearwater Forest up into the St. Joe River region of the Panhandle. In December, Fish and Game reported there are at least 12 wolf packs in the Lolo region that travel back and forth between Idaho and Montana.
The control action took place over three days during the second week of February. Unsworth said he didn’t know the exact location of where the wolves were taken.
In the Lolo zone, hunters have taken 11 wolves, trappers have taken 11, control efforts in the spring of 2011 took six, and the most recent control effort took 14 for a total of 42 wolves.
The initial target of the control action was to remove 40 to 50 wolves.
Dr. Ken Fischman of the North Idaho Wolf Alliance said the control action seemed unnecessary. NIWA has always opposed a hunting season for wolves in Idaho, and Fischman said if hunting season isn’t producing elimination numbers the IDFG wants, perhaps wolf population numbers were inflated in the first place.
“Apparently the hunters were not very successful,” he said. “Since it was so difficult for them to kill these 50 wolves, how many wolves are there really?”
In September 2010, IDFG submitted a proposal to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to allow wolf control actions in the Lolo elk zone under a provision of the Endangered Species Act, which produced the initial target of 50 wolves, according to IDFG press release.
The state estimates around 1,100 wolves live in Idaho.
Harvest quotas for recreational hunting are by region. Coeur d’Alene’s Panhandle Region doesn’t have a limit. Neither does the Lolo zone, which includes 238,000 acres of the federally-designated Selway Bitterroot Wilderness that comprises roughly 22 percent of hunt area.
Wolf populations are not in jeopardy in the Lolo zone, IDFG said. More control actions aren’t planned, but the department will maintain wolf numbers at a level that will result in reduced elk mortality, it said.
Before the start of the hunting season last fall, the Lolo wolf population was estimated at 75 to 100 wolves, with additional animals crossing back and forth between Idaho and Montana. Elk will be monitored to see whether the population increases in response to regulated hunting, trapping and wolf control actions.
The wolf hunting season in the Lolo zone continues through June, and the trapping season continues through the end of March.
The cost of the action is estimated at $22,500 in license funds.
As of Feb. 22, hunters and trappers have taken a total of 318 wolves across the state.