A Rural Viewpoint On Wolf Reintroduction And Protection
Feds reject Idaho plan to kill wolves, say science isn't solid
Free New Mexican Santa Fe, NM
By JOHN MILLER | The New Mexican
September 23, 2006
BOISE, Idaho (AP) - Federal officials have rejected Idaho's plan to kill
up to 43 wolves in north-central Idaho to boost elk numbers, saying
scientific data gathered by the state do not justify the action.
At a recent meeting, federal officials told Steve Nadeau, Idaho Fish and
Game Department's large carnivore manager, that state studies of elk
declines in the Lolo region didn't adequately demonstrate wolves are the
"We agreed the wolves are playing an important role in limiting recovery.
The question comes down to whether or not there's an unacceptable impact,"
said Jeff Foss, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service field supervisor in
Boise. "Based on the information that was provided at the meeting, the
service didn't feel it had enough at that time to draw (that) conclusion."
The Idaho agency said the federal decision means the plan will not be put
into effect this winter, but research to gather supporting data will
"The department would have liked to move forward by this winter," Jim
Unsworth, the department's wildlife bureau chief, told The Associated
Press. "That's not likely."
Last January when the state's proposal was unveiled, conservation groups
came to the same conclusion as the federal scientists. They argue that
poor habitat, not wolves, is the main reason Lolo elk now number less than a quarter
of the 16,500 counted in the region north of the Lochsa River in
Fires in the early 20th century cleared heavy timber there, creating good
elk habitat. In recent years, however, once-grassy hillsides that
supported thousands of elk have filled in with lodgepole pine, red fir and
western cedar, they said.
While the Idaho Conservation League backs removing federal protections
from wolves in the state because their numbers have met recovery goals in Idaho's wolf management plan, spokesman Jonathan Oppenheimer said plans to
remove specific wolves such as those in the Lolo still should be
"Regardless of whether they have to get the OK from Fish and Wildlife or
whether they get it (through) delisting, if you want to have more elk,
you've got to have the habitat to support them," Oppenheimer said.
State officials, including Gov. Jim Risch, say Idaho is collecting new
information to support its aim of reducing wolves in the Lolo elk
management zone on the Idaho-Montana border by 75 percent.
But they said their main focus now has shifted to getting the Interior
Department to lift federal Endangered Species Act protections from gray
wolves in the region.
Since January, Idaho has had day-to-day management over central Idaho
wolves _ including the Lolo pack _ that are considered "experimental,
nonessential" and thus not fully protected under the Endangered Species
Act. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service still manages wolves north of U.S.
Interstate 90 in the Panhandle, where the animals are listed as
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is considering removing federal
protections in most of Idaho and Montana, where wolves number 800. If that happens,
Idaho would no longer need permission from the federal agency to
start killing wolves in the Lolo or anywhere else in the state.
That's the state's main desire, Idaho Office of Species Conservation
Director Jim Caswell said. But he added the state is still committed to
its proposal to reduce the Lolo pack _ a stance he acknowledges has
"It could cause people to fight against a potential delisting proposal,"
Caswell said. "Sure, it's a concern. It's always been a concern."