Thursday, the gray wolves in the northern Rocky Mountains were officially taken off the federal government's Endangered Species List. That gives control of the 1500 wolves in the area to the states of Idaho, Montana and Wyoming. About half of the animals are in Idaho, and the state's Fish and Game Department is gearing up to manage the population. Its management plan includes establishing a hunting season. But as Don Wimberly reports from Boise, the plan won't move forward without a legal challenge.
For months now, Idaho Fish and Game Managers have been preparing plans to allow hunting Gray Wolves as a big game species. Now that may actually happen after the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced the once-endangered wolves were being delisted. Idaho's Fish and Game wants to now manage the wolf population like grizzly bears and mountain lions, allowing big game hunting to keep the wolf numbers in check.
Steve Nadeau, Wolf Manager for Idaho Fish and Game, says hunting would most likely be allowed in areas where ranchers and livestock come into contact with wolves. "They're primarily on private land," he explains. "Hunting will not eliminate conflict, but it will reduce conflict and we're hoping to have it at a manageable level."
Over the next five years, the plan calls for maintaining the wolf population in Idaho between 500 and 700 animals. Nadeau says wolves are in Idaho to stay. He understands all the past opposition to the predators when they were reintroduced in Yellowstone National Park 13 years ago. But he says hunting will be good for wolf survival. "By allowing hunting - and the hunters are out there and able to participate - they become more supportive of wolves in the state." He points out that the biggest supporters of mountain lions are mountain lion hunters, and adds, "we think once in the state that you'll see a real shift in attitude."
While Idaho Fish and Game makes its plans to allow the hunting of wolves, a number of environment groups will try to stop it. Louisa Wilcox, Senior Wildlife Advocate for the Natural Resources Defense Council, says the issue is heading to court. "The NRDC is prepared to move as expeditiously as possible. We are going to try to stop wolf-killing plans in Idaho, and Wyoming when they arise, and basically it's going to be a legal battle in the not-too-distant future."
What is needed, says Wilcox, is a long-term solution to manage the livestock with wolves. "What has been missing in this wolf debate and in this decision so far is good science. It uses outdated science. It has little compassion for wolves and the people who have to live with wolves. And it has very little resources committed to the challenge of managing and living with wolves."
Wilcox says the public comments filed as part of the delisting proposal show many people are positive about wolves and recognize the ecological value they bring to the region.
But for now, if the Idaho Fish and Game Commission gives the go-ahead at its meeting in March, Idaho sportsmen could be hunting wolves as early as this fall.