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Idaho wants stronger voice in managing wolves

From Idaho Fish and Game

-- Idaho should remain in the lead role in managing wolves despite their return to endangered species status, the Idaho Fish and Game Commission decided August 16.

Commissioners want a new agreement with the federal government for lead management to include changes to restrict the use of license dollars used on wolf management and to better reflect state priorities.

The commission adopted a resolution calling for action in response to the recent federal court decision that returned gray wolves in the Northern Rockies to the endangered species list, including:

1. Remaining ready to resume state management when wolves are again removed from Endangered Species Act protection.

2. Working with the governor's office and Idaho congressional delegation on federal legislation to solve this problem.

3. Supporting an appeal of the court decision to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

4. Pursuing all options to remove wolves from the endangered species list and reestablish a public hunting season.

Commissioners also discussed the role the state should play in wolf management while wolves in Idaho are back on the endangered species list, and how best to protect the interests of Idaho hunters and others who depend on elk and other wild ungulates, livestock owners and pet owners from the negative effects of wolf predation.

The commission confronted the choice of retaining responsibility for management with little authority while wolves are under federal protection or leaving Idaho interests in the hands of federal managers.

Public comment sought

The commission is also seeking public opinion on a proposal to reduce the wolf population in part of the Clearwater drainage, available online at http://fishandgame.idaho.gov/.

The proposal calls for reducing the population of wolves in two big game management units that make up the Lolo elk management zone. Wolf numbers would be kept at about 20 to 30 wolves for five years, while the elk and wolf populations are monitored. Those figures amount to removing about seven percent of the estimated minimum of 835 wolves in the state at the end of 2009.

This wolf reduction proposal is for one elk zone of the 29 zones Idaho Fish and Game manages. The proposal is pursued in an attempt to control wolf predation on elk in the Lolo zone because of unacceptable impacts on the elk population by a wolf population that has recovered biologically.
   
As long as wolves south of Interstate 90 in Idaho remain on the endangered species list they are managed under section 10(j) of the Endangered Species Act. The rule, revised in 2008, would allow Idaho to use lethal controls on wolves that are having unacceptable impacts on the elk population.

In the Lolo zone, elk numbers have been declining over the past three decades as a result of a combination of degraded habitat, natural mortality and predation. Recent research shows wolf predation has pushed the decline to about 15 percent annually, and is keeping the elk population down.

More than 140 adult female elk in the Lolo Zone have been radio-collared since 2002. More than half of the animals that died were killed by wolves. In addition, 86 six-month old elk calves have been radio-collared since December 2005. Sixty-five percent of the elk calves that died in the winter were killed by wolves. Adult female mortality and calf mortality are key factors that affect overall elk population trends.

The reduction in wolf numbers in the Lolo zone would not affect overall wolf recovery efforts, but may help increase elk numbers.

Idaho Fish and Game would prefer to let hunters help manage the wolf population. Until the wolves are delisted and turned over to state management, Idaho will pursue the best option available under the Endangered Species Act.

The state has prepared a science-based proposal that details the problem and shows the role of wolves and why their removal is warranted. The proposal has been reviewed by recognized experts, and will be available for public comment for 14 days.

Once public comments have been reviewed, the proposal would be submitted to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for final approval.

To read the proposal or to comment, visit the Idaho Fish and Game public involvement page at http://fishandgame.idaho.gov/cms/public/.

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