Despite all the notoriety surrounding Idaho’s wolf hunt, it may not be a moneymaker for the Idaho Department of Fish and Game (IDFG), according to a department spokesman. Ed Mitchell said it’s debatable whether the hunt that led to 186 hunters killing wolves paid for itself. More than 31,000 hunters bought tags to hunt wolves, which sold for $11.50 to Idaho residents and $186 to out-of-state hunters.
“We need that tag money for our wolf and other big game programs,” Mitchell told IdahoReporter.com. He said the cost of wolf management programs, including tracking and tagging wolves, and the loss of revenues on elk hunting tags due to elk being killed by wolves has offset the more than $400,000 raised from wolf tag sales. Mitchell said elk herds in several areas of the state have been declining, including the Lolo zone. “The Lolo’s been studied so thoroughly,” he said, adding that other areas, like the Selway zone, may also have had large depredation. “We just have more complete science on the Lolo.” Both the Lolo and Selway zones are located along the Montana-Idaho border.
Wolves that kill livestock can also harm ranchers’ bottom line. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recently announced that Idaho will get a $140,000 grant to pay back livestock producers in cases of depredation. U.S. Sen. Jim Risch said in a news release that ranchers need this support. “Over the past year, I have heard repeatedly from ranchers who have been pushed to the brink of going out of business as a result of wolf predation,” Risch said. “This funding will help provide the resources to prevent future conflicts and provide compensation for losses. Idaho needs to continue active and aggressive management of the wolf population, just as it has successfully done with cats and bears over the last century.”
Mitchell said IDFG is happy with how the department and hunters handled the recently-completed hunt. “We think it went just about as well as it really could have gone,” he said. “It was orderly. We had almost no problem doing it with the cooperation from our hunters.” Mitchell said that if Idaho has another wolf hunt this fall, IDFG expects a drop-off in tag purchases as the novelty wears off, but he said it won’t be too sharp a decline. Many hunters will buy tags for big game animals like wolves, but only use them during the course of their hunts for deer, elk, or other animals. “They buy the tag every year just to have it in case (they see the animal),” Mitchell said.
Several conservation groups are attempting to get rid of the wolf hunt and change Idaho’s wolf management policies by overturning the federal decision to remove wolves from the endangered species list. A federal judge in Montana could rule on that case in the next few months. Mitchell said there’s no timeline, but a decision could come down this summer. Conservation groups have said that wolves are still seeking a balance with other animals in Idaho, and that the state wildlife managers shouldn’t try to keep elk and other wildlife at a certain population.
IDFG is currently assessing the hunt for wolves and will make a decision on changes to the wolf hunt, including changing the prices for wolf tags or increasing the harvest limit from the current 220 wolves. Hunters didn’t reach that limit, though the wolf hunt did close early in six of the 12 hunting zones.