Idaho Wolf Population Remains Stable Despite Relaxed Hunting Laws

by Craig Garrett
Pack of Gray Wolves - stock photo

Despite liberalized hunting and trapping laws taking effect last year, Idaho’s overall wolf population has remained stable. Last week, Idaho Department of Fish and Game Director Ed Schriever had a very clear message for Gem State lawmakers. “What I do know is that human-caused mortality and natural-cause mortality is very similar to what it was the previous years,” Schriever said. This was during an October 6th meeting of the Natural Resources Interim Committee, according to an article in Big Country News.

On private property, wolves can now be trapped year-round due to Idaho Senate Bill 1211 in 2021. This bill also permits the unlimited purchase of wolf tags and allows for the same methods used to take other wild dogs in Idaho (such as foxes or coyotes) to be employed against wolves. Although the new rules are facing some opposition through an ongoing lawsuit, they have been established nonetheless.

In the 2021-22 season, approximately 50,000 hunters and trappers killed 389 wolves. However, only 72 of those hunters and trappers killed more than one wolf. Most of the wolves were killed in North Idaho. Schriever said that Idaho’s population is stable but won’t release an official estimate until January.

“I think the best way to describe Idaho’s wolf population is that it’s fairly stable and it’s fluctuating around 1,250,” he explained. “Part of the year, it’s below that. Part of the year, it’s above that.”

Wolf numbers tend to decrease by the late winter months

Most wolf populations start to increase in the spring when pups are born, and by late winter these same populations have noticeably decreased due to trapping, hunting, and harsh winter months. For instance, Schriever explained how Idaho’s wolves have lost their federal protection status while other packs in the western parts of Washington remain protected under the Endangered Species Act.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service wanted to remove protections for the northern Rocky Mountain gray wolf population in 2009. These protections would have included Idaho and Eastern Washington. However, a federal judge stopped that from happening. In 2011, Congress approved the delisting of wolves. The original 2009 rules said that there should be about 500 of them in Idaho.

“I think there are a whole bunch of us that would be happy if we could get to what’s described in the federal delisting rule as a population fluctuating around 500,” Schriever explained. If the population falls below 150, as per federal rules, management will be taken over by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Supporters of the law trapping and hunting wolves are more effective than other current methods. They believe it will reduce attacks on livestock allowing elk and deer herds to recover.

Non-lethal methods of reducing wolf-livestock conflict do exist and have evidence to support them, according to opponents. They also claim that killing wolves doesn’t always reduce conflict, citing studies as proof.