The Idaho Department of Fish and Game has announced the killing of 19 wolves last month by USDA Wildlife Services specialists in Idaho’s Lolo Zone, near the Montana border, according to a press release published on Monday. Officials described the wolf killings as part of a multipronged initiative to improve the local elk population, which also includes habitat improvement and generous seasons and bag limits on elk predators.
Experts including Jerome Hansen, a regional supervisor at the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, say that the area’s increasingly dense forests have reduced the local elk population, which hovered around 16,000 animals in 1989, to 1,000 in recent years. Hunting has been extremely restricted in the Lolo Zone since 1998 and is not considered a primary cause of the elks’ decline. Officials say that wolves are the most prominent factor in preventing the population from rebounding.
“We have to manage wolves aggressively in order to get elk turned around,” Hansen told the Lewiston Tribune.
As Outside wrote in January, the resurgence of gray wolves in the American West has been a considerable source of resentment and ire, particularly since they were removed from protections under the Endangered Species Act. While ranchers and livestock owners decry restrictions on wolf killing as an infringement on their right to defend themselves and their animals, conservationists say that state agencies have far too much latitude in pursuing a wolf management plan. (State and federal agents have killed 48 wolves in the Lolo Zone in the past five years; the Idaho Department of Fish and Game’s Lolo Predation Management Plan calls for reducing wolf numbers by 70 to 80 percent.)
Suzanne Stone, a senior northwest representative for the conservation group Defenders of Wildlife, is particularly skeptical of the logic behind the Lolo Zone plan, wherein most wolves have been shot from helicopters since the forest is too thick for sportsmen to access.
“In order for wolves to be impacting hunters, you have to have hunters in the area—and what they have been telling us all along is there’s not a lot of people hunting this area and actually few that get far back in there,” Stone told the Times-News. “If it’s so remote that hunters can’t get in there, why would hunters care that wolves are killing elk in there?”