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Idaho's wolf killings decline as board advances private contracts

Wolves howl in a forest.
John Flesher
AP Images
Wolves howl in a forest.

The number of wolves killed in Idaho this past year is down. Katie Oelrich with the Idaho Department of Fish and Game told members of the Wolf Depredation Control Board Thursday that 389 wolves have been killed in the state since last July.

“This includes hunting, trapping, Wildlife Services removals, roadkill and all the other things that we get brought into us or we're notified of,” she said.

The total number of wolves killed is about 10% lower than last year and 20% lower than the past three years.

“So, not a significant change,” she said. “But wolf harvest has been trending downward for the last few years.”

Oelrich also noted that a recent court injunction could dramatically reduce the number of wolves killed next year. The order issued by a federal judge in March forced Fish and Game to curtail the locations and duration of wolf trapping seasons to protect grizzly bears.

About a third of all wolf kills in Idaho in the last year would be prohibited going forward under the changes. The state is asking the court to reconsider the decision.

The total number of wolves roaming the state and the number of confirmed cases of wolves killing livestock have also declined over the past few years.

After several years of the wolf population hovering around 1,550, Fish and Game counted 1,340 wolves in 2022. The agency will present the 2023 population numbers this summer. Last year, the commission approved a wolf management plan that targets a population of 500 wolves—a reduction of about 60%.

During the board meeting on Thursday, Wildlife Services, the federal agency that the state hires to kill wolves, reported a decline in depredation investigations between January and March compared to the same time period the previous year—four compared with nine—continuing a downward trend observed last year.

Paying ranchers to kill wolves

The Wolf Depredation Control Board also approved reimbursements for a pilot project that provides funds to ranchers who hire private contractors to kill wolves on their behalf.

The 2021 state law that greatly expanded opportunities to hunt and trap wolves also permitted the board to pay private contractors to kill wolves.

On Thursday, the board signed off on $18,000 in reimbursements for Valley County-based Davis Cattle Company, which hired contractors to kill four wolves earlier this year. In its application, the ranch said it had experienced confirmed livestock depredations in the past, though not in the preceding year.

Control board members expressed concerns about the possibility of contractors seeking reimbursement from both the pilot project and a state-funded wolf bounty system, which the agreement prohibits.

“I would make a motion to approve the invoice, contingent upon validating that we have not – there's no – I'll use the term, ‘double dip’ – going on here,” said Board Member Jon Goode.

During next month’s meeting, the wolf board will consider doling out $88,000 more in rancher contracts to kill wolves.

It may also explore providing reimbursements to ranchers for livestock killed by wolves, following new state legislation passed this year, which further expands the board’s scope to cover depredation costs.

“The bank didn't grow, but the latitude did,” said Idaho Fish and Game Director Jim Fredericks. “That's a good thing, but we've got our challenges ahead.”

Additionally, while a separate new law allocates state funds for the first time for deterrents to prevent wolf-livestock conflicts, no wolf board funds can be spent on those non-lethal activities.

Find reporter Rachel Cohen on X @racheld_cohen

Copyright 2024 Boise State Public Radio

I cover environmental issues, outdoor recreation and local news for Boise State Public Radio. Beyond reporting, I contribute to the station’s digital strategy efforts and enjoy thinking about how our work can best reach and serve our audience. The best part of my job is that I get to learn something new almost every day.

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