By THOMAS PLANK
BOISE — Over the past year, more wolves were killed in Idaho than in any other year since at least 2013.
From July 1, 2019, to June 30, 570 wolves were killed by hunters, vehicles, traps and other causes, according to data from the Idaho Department of Fish and Game.
Most of the wolves were killed by trappers and hunters. The Fish and Game Commission earlier this year extended the wolf-trapping and hunting seasons and increased the number of tags a hunter or trapper could buy.
Katie Oelrich, Fish and Game wildlife staff biologist for large carnivores, said the department has seen a “substantial increase in wolf harvest.”
The trapping harvest saw an 86% increase, Oelrich said, from:
n 231 wolves in 2019-20
n 124 wolves in 2018-19
The general hunting harvest saw a bump from:
n 223 wolves in 2019-2020
n 188 wolves in 2018-19
Garrick Dutcher, a documentarian and program director of Ketchum-based nonprofit Living with Wolves, said this year’s numbers were “alarming.”
“I’ve never seen that many wolves killed in a 12-month period,” Dutcher said in a phone interview.
Since the fall of 2013 to the spring of 2019, an average of 407 wolves per year were killed by hunters, wildlife services, trappers and other causes, according to IDFG counts. The high for wolf deaths during that time frame was 487 wolves in 2013-2014.
IDFG’s management goal is to reduce the population of wolves in Idaho. There are a number of reasons for this policy stance, but concerns about negative interactions with domestic animals and humans are high on the agency’s list.
The number of wolves living in the state was estimated to be between 1,112 and 1,970 animals in July 2019. That number of wolves means that the population is “secure in Idaho,” according to Oelrich.
Determining the actual number of wolves in Idaho is a complicated proposition, and one that has changed format over the years. Until May 2016, Idaho was required to maintain enough radio collared wolves to prove a minimum of 150 wolves in the state and 15 breeding pairs of wolves, both requirements under the Endangered Species Act.
As the state’s wolf population continued to grow, it became more difficult to monitor, Oelrich wrote in an email, “because of the extensive effort and cost of radio collaring wolves and then sending crews out to verify wolf pups during denning season.”
In 2016, Idaho Fish and Game decided to use a grid of 200 game cameras to determine if wolf packs were in certain areas of the state, along with additional DNA analysis of wolf feces and from wolves killed by hunters and trappers. The department is turning to solely game cameras to estimate the population, which is why it placed another 750 game cameras in the field in the summers of 2019 and 2020.
Idaho is still required to keep a mid-winter wolf population of at least 150 wolves, with at least 15 packs with a minimum of an adult female, an adult male and two pups, according to a federally approved 2002 Idaho Wolf and Conservation Plan. A target number for Idaho’s wolf population has not been set by the Idaho Fish and Game Commission.