Inaugural Idaho Wolf Hunt Ends

Idaho's history-making hunting season for gray wolves officially ended at dusk last Wednesday, March 31, with 185 wolves killed by hunters, 35 animals shy of the 220 statewide quota.

Wildlife officials immediately offered words of praise for the historic hunt, claiming it effectively demonstrates that states can responsibly manage a species the federal government spent millions of dollars over the last 15 years restoring in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming.

Cal Groen, director of the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, said it should also dispel fears that giving hunters license to kill wolves would threaten recovery less than a year after the animals were removed from the endangered species list.

"I think this shows that we're going still going to have a healthy wolf population that can be a part of our landscape," Groen said.

In Montana, hunters killed 72 wolves during its inaugural two-month season in 2009, while wildlife agents killed another 145 found harassing or preying on livestock. In Wyoming, where wolves remain under federal protection, agents killed 32 wolves, and in Idaho, another 138 were killed by wildlife agents.

A report issued in March by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service found more than 1,700 wolves roaming the region, compared to 1,650 the previous year. The number of breeding packs increased from 95 to 115.

In addition to contributing to the successful management of wolves in the two states, the hunts also added considerable revenue to agency coffers, something that's always welcomed in the current era of ever-tightening game department budgets.

Idaho sold 31,393 wolf tags for its 2009-2010 season, generating $497,304 for wildlife conservation. In Montana, where 15,603 wolf licenses were sold, a total of $325,916 was brought in.

Plans are already underway for Idaho's 2010-2011 wolf season. Potential changes include allowing hunters to kill a second wolf in certain zones, adjusting season length, changing zone boundaries, decreasing tag fees for non-residents and allowing hunters to use electronic predator calls. The state hopes to decrease the wolf population to a target number of about 500 animals.

Montana game officials plan to assess all the harvest information and other data collected through the year prior to proposing any changes for its 2010 hunting season quotas.