BOISE, Idaho -- The Idaho Fish and Game Commission will consider a dramatic increase to the wolf hunting and trapping bag limits for the Clearwater and Panhandle regions of Idaho during its meeting in Boise Thursday.
Under a proposal from the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, hunters in the two northernmost regions of the state would be allowed to kill five wolves per year. Trappers would also be allowed to kill five wolves during trapping season.
Jeff Gould, chief of the department's wildlife bureau at Boise, estimated few hunters and trappers will be able to reach the proposed limits. But he said the department wants to reduce wolf numbers, especially in areas like the Lolo and Selway zones where elk are having problems. Allowing skilled hunters and trappers to increase their kill will help the state achieve that goal.
"The last thing we want to do is restrict the few people who are helping us in the Selway and Lolo by having a bag limit that is too low," he said.
During the current hunting and trapping season, 15 hunters have killed more than one wolf and 24 trappers have killed two or more wolves. The current statewide bag limit for hunters is two per season and the current trapping limit is three per season. But since hunting and trapping seasons run on different calendars, those who participate in both can take as many as seven wolves in a 10-month period. Under the proposed bag limits, they would be able to take as many as 15 wolves in the same 10-month period.
Here is how it works: Bag limits for the wolf season operate on a calendar year even though the season spans both sides of January. That means hunters who fill wolf bag limit in the fall can reset on Jan. 1. Trapping season runs on a fiscal calendar. Even though the season straddles the new year, the bag limits do not reset on Jan. 1.
So under the current bag limits, a hunter could kill two wolves between Aug. 30 and Dec. 31. On Jan. 1, the hunter would be able start from scratch and kill two more wolves by the end of the season. The same person could kill three wolves on trapping tags for a total of seven wolves between Aug. 30 and June 30.
Under the new limits, the same hunter/trapper could take a total of 15 wolves in the same 10-month period, 10 by hunting and five by trapping. However a hunter who reaches a limit between Jan. 1 and the end of the season would not be able to participate in the next fall season and instead have to wait until the following Jan. 1 to resume wolf hunting.
For some wolf advocates, the proposed bag limits are proof Idaho is too aggressive in its effort to manage wolf populations. Idaho hunters and trappers have killed 362 wolves since Aug. 30. Idaho had an estimated minimum population of 777 wolves at the end of 2010 and 746 at the end of 2011.
Brett Haverstick of the Friends of the Clearwater in Moscow plans to testify before the Fish and Game Commission during a public comment period Wednesday.
"The federal government needs to step in and relist the gray wolf. It is abundantly clear that states like Idaho cannot manage wolves responsibly," he said. "Killing half the wolf population is not managing."
Gould said the new limits would not pose a threat to wolves on a population level.
"We are also trying to reduce conflicts and bring the overall (wolf) numbers down, but we will maintain a sustainable wolf population so we can maintain state management authority."
Barker may be contacted at ebarkerlmtribune.com or at (208) 848-2273. Follow him on Twitter ezebarker.
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