Montana, Idaho set wolf hunt season

Montana and Idaho are ready to go with gray wolf management plans that include limited hunting now that the predators are being removed from the federal endangered species list.

The Idaho Fish and Game Commission adopted tentative wolf hunting seasons to run Sept. 1-March 31 in the Lolo and Sawtooth zones, Sept. 15-Dec. 31 in the Selway and Middle Fork zones, and elsewhere Oct. 1 through Dec. 31.

Specific quotas will be set in August, pending official federal wolf delisting.

Meanwhile, Fish and Game Department officials said they will respond aggressively to areas where wolves are causing chronic problems with livestock.

About 1,645 wolves were documented in the Northern Rockies at the end of 2008, with about 95 breeding pairs. Idaho has the biggest concentration of wolves, according to federal surveys -- a minimum of 846 compared with 496 in Montana and 302 in Wyoming.

State management plans set ideal populations goals of at least 500 wolves in Idaho and 400 in Montana. "The real story of wolf recovery is that about 95 percent of the Montana wolf population now lives outside of national parks on both public and private lands," said Joe Maurier, the state's Fish, Wildlife and Parks director.

Idaho's first official wolf hunting seasons coincide with the commission's decision to reduce the state's elk and deer hunting seasons this fall.

A combination of wolf predation and two hard winters has sportsmen and biologists especially worried about calf and fawn survival in some of the state's most famous big-game producing regions.

Management is necessary to maintain social acceptance for the wolves, said Ed Bangs, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist.

"Resident wolf packs occupy nearly all of the suitable habitat in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming so there really isn't any more room for more wolf packs without lots more livestock and pet damage than we currently have," Bangs said.

However, outside the park, expanding numbers of wolves have the last-ditch survival option of turning to non-natural food sources, such as livestock.

"Last year was a record with at least 214 cattle, 355 sheep, 14 dogs and 18 other large domestic animals confirmed killed (by wolves)," Bangs said. "Studies indicate only a fraction, perhaps only one in eight of actual wolf-caused losses, are ever confirmed."

In 2008, nearly $500,000 was paid by private and state compensation programs for livestock growers impacted by wolves. In addition, the federal government spent nearly $1 million controlling wolves that were zeroing in on livestock.

The recently announced removal of the gray wolf from federal "endangered" status included wolves found in the eastern two-thirds of Washington. However, Washington still lists the wolf as endangered.

Therefore, it's still illegal for the public to kill, harm or harass wolves in Washington, said Madonna Luers, department spokeswoman in Spokane.