BOISE – Dozens gathered on the steps of the Idaho Statehouse Monday afternoon to show support for wolf recovery in Idaho and opposition to Idaho’s Wolf Depredation Control Board and the recent aerial gunning of wolves in the “Lolo Zone” by the USDA Wildlife Services and Idaho Fish and Game Department.
Demonstrators – from the Defenders of Wildlife and Friends of the Clearwater groups — want an end to what they called Idaho’s “wasteful Wolf Control Board and the termination of the USDA Wildlife Services aerial gunning program in the Lolo Zone on the Clearwater National Forest.”
The Idaho Fish and Game Department recently announced the completion of an aerial gunning exercise by the USDA Wildlife Services that resulted in the killing of 20 wolves in that area, according to the groups.
The Wolf Control Board is now requesting an additional $400,000 for further wolf “control” actions in 2016.
Demonstrators said, last year, a total of 72 wolves were killed with money from the Wolf Control Board. The Board was awarded $400,000 in 2015. That equates to roughly $5,500 per wolf “control,” the groups said.
The Idaho Wolf Depredation Control Board was created two years ago within the Office of the Governor. It is tasked with “directing and managing funds” for the purpose of wolf depredation control within Idaho The law enacted in 2014 is based on the recommendation from the Fish and Game Advisory Committee to Governor Otter addressing wolf depredation funding in Idaho.
Calls to the State Fish and Game Department were not immediately returned.
Twenty wolves were shot from a helicopter in northern Idaho in the past week, part of a wolf-control operation designed to improve elk survival in the area.
That’s on top of 20 more wolves killed by hunters and trappers in the Lolo elk zone over the past year, according to the Idaho Department of Fish and Game. That zone straddles the county line of Clearwater and Idaho counties.
The helicopter hunt is the operation the Idaho Wolf Depredation Control Board was trying to keep secret on Monday when the board had its budget hearing before the Legislature’s joint budget committee. At that time, a representative wouldn’t answer questions about wolves killed so far in 2016. The board receives $400,000 a year in state tax funds to target problem wolves that prey on livestock or wildlife; it also receives money from the Fish and Game Department and from the livestock industry.
“Fish and Game prefers to manage wolf populations using hunters and trappers and only authorizes control actions where regulated harvest has been insufficient to meet management goals,” the agency said in a statement. “The Lolo zone is steep, rugged country that is difficult to access, especially in winter,” necessitating the use of the helicopter, the statement said.
It added, “To date, hunters and trappers have taken 20 wolves in the Lolo zone during the 2015-2016 season. The trapping season ends March 31 and the hunting season ends June 30.”
The agency said the Lolo elk population has declined dramatically over the last 25 years, from 16,000 elk to fewer than 1,000 today. It has conducted aerial wolf-kills in the Lolo zone for the past five years.