Idaho allows wolf hunting season with traps, no kill quota

Aug 1, 2011

SALMON, Idaho - The Idaho Fish and Game Commission voted Thursday for a plan that sets hunting and trapping season for the Northern Rocky Mountain gray wolf. The state hopes sportsmen will help keep the wolf population in check.

But critics object to Idaho allowing hunters to use traps for the first time since the wolves were reintroduced.

The night before Fish and Game commissioners voted on the plan, there was a raucous public meeting, dominated by wolf foes. Mike and Irene Popp, a father and daughter anti-wolf team from Kamiah , testified Idaho isn’t going far enough to cut down the wolf population. Nine-year-old Irene made a particular splash.

"Can anyone tell me what's good about the wolves?" she asked.

After that, the actual vote on the wolf hunting plan by the Fish and Game Commission seemed a little... anti-climactic.

But Idaho's wolf management plan would do a couple of unprecedented things. For most of the state, there would be no quota – that is, no upper limit to how many total wolves are killed.

It would also allow wolf trapping in the lower 48 for the first time in modern history. As an added incentive, commissioners also voted to dramatically lower the price of a wolf tag for out-of-staters from $186 to about $31.

"You know, this proposal is for this season," says Jon Rachael, Idaho Fish and Game's big game manager. "We do not expect that this will bring us to some sort of magical or mystical balance that will make wolf lovers and wolf haters happy and make the elk come back, but it's a step."

Under the plan, trappers would be able to take up to three wolves. But because wolf trapping is new to Idaho sportsmen, they'll first have to take a class on the subject.

Toby Boudreau may be teaching some of the classes. He recently left Alaska to join Idaho Fish and Game. He's trapped wolves himself.

"You know, hunting's a challenging way to get fur bearers because of their nocturnal nature," Boudreau explains. "They often can't be found during the day or found easily, whereas traps, you know, operate 24 hours a day."

Idaho's new wolf management rules allow traps that clamp the animal's foot. They also allow snares. Boudreau brought a wire snare to the Fish and Game meeting to demonstrate how it would work on a wolf.

"His head goes through and then the snare closes," he says.

"He feels the restraint and pulls away, and um..."

Well, and he asphyxiates. This whole scenario worries Suzanne Stone of the group Defenders of Wildlife.

"If the traps are not checked for two or even three days, it really increases the likelihood that the animal will actually die in the trap," she says. "They go through a lot of stress. They go through heat exhaustion, become severely dehydrated and die that way. Or freeze to death."

Stone says the combination of having no quota and using traps could reduce Idaho's wolf population to levels she says are not sustainable.

Fish and Game commissioner Gary Power represents the Salmon area, where the Fish and Game held its meeting. This was the same region that saw the first reintroduction of wolves 16 years ago.

Back then, he says wolves really got people hot under the collar. But gradually, Power says that changed.

"I think most of the folks have accepted that they're here. And so the fear is not as great as in other places in the state," he says. "As they move in to new places in the state, it's a new experience."

Idaho's wolf hunting season begins this fall and runs through March of next year in most areas of the state.

Idaho's Fish and Game tried to gauge public opinion on the hunting plan through an online poll. But the agency threw out the results after it appeared most of the people taking the poll were from out of state – states like California, New York and Florida. They were against it.

The agency is also taking the results of a mailing campaign with a grain of salt. Most of the people who returned the postcards were hunters. They were for it.

On the Web:

Idaho wolf season proposals for 2011-2012:

Gray wolves in the Northern Rocky Mountains

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