By Kimberlee Kruesi
TWINFALLS • Idaho still has 10 days before its wolf hunting season closes, but officials are already beginning to plan for next year.
On Thursday, the Idaho Fish and Game Commission will set big-game season rules for 2012-2013, including for wolves. The animals were taken off the endangered species list 11 months ago by an act of Congress.
Included in the rule changes are increasing bag limits and allowing trapping in more hunting units. Commissioner will also decide if they want to increase the kill limit in the Southern Mountain area from 25 to 30.
Every rule change is region-specific, a sign that the proposals are now coming from individual regions and not the commissioners, said Jeff Gould, Fish and Game’s chief of wildlife.
“What we’re seeing is the evolution of the wolf hunting process,” Gould said. “It started with the commissioners being highly involved with what they would allow during the season. This is now our third hunting season and we’re starting with the ground up.”
The process involves gathering input from the department’s regional offices on wolf activity and feedback from hunters and citizens throughout the season, he said.
And while the commissioners will vote on a definitive outline of all next year’s big-game seasons, they will also hear presentations on possible changes to how hunters and trappers kill wolves.
For example, there’s a request to use bait while trying to kill wolves. Another proposal would allow trappers to use handguns or small-caliber rifles to kill wolves caught in a trap or snare. One request would permit the use of road kill as bait to trap wolves.
Filer sportsmen Jack Oyler said he wants to see trapping made legal in more parts of southern Idaho.
“We haven’t killed that many wolves,” he said. “As soon as the pups grow up, we’re going to be at the same population we started at the beginning of the season.”
Overall, Idaho’s wolf numbers are down for the second consecutive year, to 770 from 850 in 2010, according to a Fish and Game report.
As of Wednesday, hunters had killed more than 360 wolves in Idaho. This is well above the 188 wolves killed during the 2009 hunt, the state’s first.
Federal law mandates that Idaho’s wolf population must stay above 150 to keep the species off the endangered list. The population fluctuates throughout the year:At the beginning of this hunting season, Fish and Game reported it at around 1,000. It’s a number the agency says is too high, but no one has yet to set an ideal population limit for the Gem State wolves.
One similarity to last year’s wolf hunting season is repeated omission of quota limits. That isn’t a surprise, said Mike Leahy of Defenders of Wildlife in Bozeman, Mont.
“We want to see wolves managed as well as any other species,” Leahy said. “Fish and Game has the skills and the know-how. However, we’ve been concerned that the management of wolves has been heavy-handed. It’s not just about reducing the population.”