COEUR d'ALENE - Scattered across North Idaho's rugged landscape, fleet-footed gray wolves are tough to track down.
Almost two years ago, Idaho Fish and Game conducted the state's first regulated wolf season, and thousands of hunters carried wolf tags into the woods. But over the course of seven months (September-March), sportsmen in the Panhandle Region legally harvested just 27 wolves.
"Some of the people hunted very, very hard. In some cases over 70 days," said Regional Wildlife Manager Jim Hayden. "So (shooting a wolf) is obviously a very difficult thing to accomplish. They're a very wary animal."
Recently removed from the federal endangered species list, wolves are once again under IDFG management, and the department is planning a wolf hunt this year.
Fish and Game will also propose a wolf trapping season for the fall and winter of 2011-12.
"The time frame on it right now is we're still putting the pieces together," Hayden said. "We need additional harvest beyond what we had in 2009."
In parts of Alaska and Canada, he explained, trapping - in addition to conventional hunting - is an effective tool for controlling wolf populations.
IDFG plans to have a proposal ready by mid-July. Public comments will be accepted online, and an open house will most likely be scheduled. The Fish and Game Commission will set hunting and trapping seasons in late July.
Wildlife biologists are now working on the proposal, Hayden said. Season length, time of year, what type of traps will be allowed and the impact on wildlife are all under consideration.
"We have to take a lot of care in designing something like this," Hayden said. "There's a lot of homework being done right now. We want to do as good a job as we can."
According to the latest IDFG figures, the statewide wolf population is around 1,000 animals. Hayden estimated between 100 and 200 wolves currently roam the Panhandle Region.
Idaho trappers are somewhat few and far between - roughly 800-1,000 throughout the entire state, Hayden said. They take fur-bearing game like beaver, coyote, pine marten and muskrat, using leg-hold traps or snares.
A wolf trapping season, some sporting goods retailers say, would be well-received by Panhandle sportsmen.
"In this area, yes," said James Bailey, an outfitter at Cabela's in Post Falls. "I think a lot of the hunters are feeling that anything to help get rid of the wolves is a good thing."
Cabela's does not carry trapping equipment, Bailey added.
Going after wolves, whether trapping or hunting, is never easy. To better understand wolves and where they range, IDFG biologists occasionally trap the predators and attach radio collars. The packs can then be tracked and studied.
Fish and Game uses non-lethal scent traps, Hayden said, which do not hurt the animals.
As the biologists traipse through mountainous country, hoping to find and eventually capture their cagey quarry, the going is often rough.
"Sometimes it's even difficult to observe a pack that you're confident are in the area," Hayden said. "Trapping any member of the dog family is very difficult, whether it's a dog, a coyote or a wolf."
Brandon Kron, hunting manager at Wholesale Sports in Coeur d'Alene, said he thinks trapping wolves would be very popular in North Idaho.
"Probably the most effective way to get the wolves," Kron said. "We used to carry a lot of (trapping equipment), and we're going to be getting more of it in the fall."
Finding wolves is always a challenge, he added.
"It's really hard. They're very elusive. I think trapping them would be a lot more effective (than hunting)."
Now that wolves are finally off the endangered species list, IDFG plans to keep them there. The trapping and hunting seasons will be carefully monitored, and the results will help guide the department's future decisions.
"The one thing we want to do," Hayden said, "is maintain a healthy wolf population across the state."