By RALPH BARTHOLDT
Beginning this year, hunters and trappers in Idaho’s Panhandle can kill twice the number of wolves they were allowed to harvest in the past.
In an effort to manage wolf populations in the state, game commissioners at a Boise meeting this week doubled from 10 to 20 the number of wolves Idaho hunters and trappers can take in the Panhandle, Clearwater, Upper Snake and Salmon regions.
Commissioners also added wolf trapping seasons in units 8 and 8A in the northwest corner of the Clearwater Region, an area that includes Moscow, and in units 11 and 11A south of Lewiston. Four additional central Idaho units, 31 and 32, which include Payette and Weiser, and units 33 and 34 west of Stanley were also opened to trapping.
Panhandle commissioner Brad Corkill said the impact of the new additions will not be far-reaching among North Idaho sportsmen in the Panhandle.
“It’s only going to affect a handful of people,” Corkill said. “It will allow them to get a few extra tags.”
Despite a large following for groups such as the Foundation for Wildlife Management, which pays Idaho hunters and trappers to legally harvest wolves, not many sportsmen target wolves. Fewer still are successful.
Fish and Game statistics show that wolf harvest peaked at 376 in 2011, the first year that both hunting and trapping were offered.
Since then, the wolf harvest declined 10 percent annually. By 2016, hunters took 143 wolves and trappers took 83 wolves, almost a third fewer than the previous three-year average.
By way of contrast, around 2,500 black bears are harvested annually along with an average of 580 cougars, according to IDFG.
Jim Hayden, former Panhandle game manager and now the state’s wolf manager, said high wolf density in the state has resulted in wolves leaving to expand westward.
“Like other territorial animals, wolves only increase to a certain degree over any given chunk of land,” Hayden said. “Their territoriality limits their density. So when wolf territories get occupied, dispersing wolves don’t hang out in these areas but move on, looking for vacant habitat.”
Although much of the state’s wolf habitat is occupied, there are uninhabited pockets in southern and eastern Idaho — including land where wolf and livestock clashes are likely.
“There is still a reasonable chance that more wolf territories will become established within the state,” Hayden said.
More than 90 packs lived in Idaho last year, with each pack having about eight wolves. When wolves were introduced in 1995, the goal was to have 15 packs.
Commissioners this week also added private land trapping seasons from Oct. 10 through March 31 in southern Idaho to prevent wolf expansion and to minimize potential wolf conflicts with livestock, according to Fish and Game.