The Idaho Department of Fish and Game Commissioners voted unanimously Thursday to expand the wolf hunting and trapping season in Idaho.
The commission approved nine proposals, which open many regions in southwest and south-central Idaho to year-round wolf hunting, and extend the basic wolf hunting season to Aug. 1 through June 30 annually. The previous end-of-season date had been March 31.
Prior to its vote, Commissioners were updated on the results of a two-week public comment period, which generated 27,076 responses from across the United States and internationally. Overall results were overwhelmingly against extending the wolf season, but Idaho residents favored the expansion by a 55% to 45% margin. Location data was provided by responders and by internet address.
Fish and Game Commissioners approved all nine proposals unanimously and without public discussion at a meeting Thursday morning in Boise.
“All of these discussions have been ongoing, although there was no discussion at the table," said Jon Rachael, State Wildlife Manager for Idaho Fish and Game.
He said in his summary to commissioners and in an interview after the meeting that wolf populations are growing enough that additional time to hunt and trap the animals may result in higher harvest rates but won't significantly impact the state population.
"That is based on our past experience since 2009, when we first implemented wolf harvest," he said.
Some wolf advocates disagree. Garrick Dutcher leads the nonprofit group Living With Wolves, based in Sun Valley.
"We don't believe that 1,000 wolves are too many in Idaho," Dutcher said. He contested measures used to count the wolf population.
"They're counting during the peak season of when [wolves are] right after rearing. [So we have] an overly inflated figure that doesn't compare to what our normal counts were, which occurred in the winter, which would be what, right before the new crop of puppies occur. It's a little misleading in that way," he said.
Fish and Game staff estimates there are around 1,000 wolves in the state and say population growth threatens livestock, other wildlife and human recreation.
Rachael agrees with critics saying this plan isn’t sustainable long term,
“So when we get to the point where we have effectively reduced the wolf population to some lower level, we don't need to continue to put the pedal down," he said.
And he says this plan aligns with the state’s wolf management plan drafted in 2002.
“We're going to manage wolves primarily through hunting, sport, harvest and trapping as long as we have more than 15 packs of wolves and we are way, way above that”
In early 2019, the commission approved increasing tag limits from five to ten per season for both hunting and trapping. In January, limits were increased again to 15 tags each hunting and trapping per season.
Since 2015, hunters and trappers have harvested taken about 300 wolves each year. That's 77% of the total wolf harvest, including kills by Fish and Game officers and wildlife services depredation measures.
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An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated tag limits had increased from five to 15 in January. We regret the error.