Public input sought on wolf seasons

Justin Webb poses with one of 18 wolves he’s trapped in Idaho’s northern Idaho in seven years in this 2019 photo. Webb was the executive director of the Foundation for Wildlife Management, which pays cash rewards to trappers to kill wolves.

Idaho legislators have given some leeway to the state’s Fish and Game commission to shape wolf trapping seasons in the wake of a new law targeting the controversial animals.

The Idaho Department of Fish and Game is seeking public feedback through Sunday on proposed hunting and trapping seasons that would implement provisions of the new law that takes effect July 1. At the same time, environmental groups alarmed at the law are asking the U.S. Forest Service to block parts of it from applying to wilderness areas.

In April, legislators passed a bill liberalizing wolf hunting and trapping in the state. Among other things, it removes bag limits, allows the state’s Wolf Predation Control Board to hire private contractors to kill wolves and allows methods that are typically forbidden in the taking of big game animals.

Both supporters and critics of the law said it could help the state reduce its wolf population from 1,500 to as low as 150.

The Idaho Fish and Game Commission opposed the bill because it encroached on its authority to set seasons, and commissioners said some of its broad-stroke provisions placed protected animals, like grizzly bears and Canada lynx, and domestic animals, like pet dogs, at risk.

Little signed the bill last month. At about the same time, Sen. Steve Vick, chairman of the Senate Resources and Environmental Committee, and Laurie Lickley, acting chairwoman of the House Resources and Conservation Committee, wrote a letter to then commission chairman Brad Corkill clarifying the legislation’s intent.

For example, a provision of the bill that allows those pursuing wolves to use the same hunting and trapping methods commonly permitted for coyotes appeared to take away the commission’s authority to differentiate between the use of snares and foot-hold traps during the wolf trapping season.

In recent years, the commission had allowed trappers to begin pursuing wolves earlier and earlier in the fall. In places where grizzly bears are present, the commission has allowed foothold traps but forbidden the use of snares until late in the fall when the big bruins can be expected to be hibernating. Similarly it has allowed traps but delayed the use of snares in some places when hunting dogs or pet dogs might be reasonably expected to be present. Snares are designed to catch animals around the neck and choke them to death. Thus nontargeted species can’t be released.

“We expect the commission to maintain its discretion to differentiate between foothold traps and snares when setting trapping seasons for wolves across all land ownerships,” the legislators wrote to Corkill. “In recent years, the commission has closely monitored the timing and use of snares on both private and public land because of the potential impacts to non-target animals including hunting dogs and other pets, as well as (Endangered Species Act) listed species. We expect this practice to continue.” They also said the commission can shorten the time snares are allowed on private land, as long as foothold traps are allowed year-round.

The Idaho Fish and Game department is taking public comments ahead of the commission’s season-setting action that will put in place the provisions of the new law. But the agency will retain some discretion over when and where the expanded methods of take may be used, according to a proposal the commission could implement.

The law allows people to shoot wolves from motorized vehicles, so long as they don’t violate other state laws like shooting from a roadway. It allows wolves to be hunted over bait on private land, and it allows wolves to be hunted at night, but only with a special permit.

The agency wants to limit the expanded methods of take to areas where wolves have persistently preyed on livestock or where deer and elk herds aren’t meeting population objectives. They would not be allowed in other areas.

On public land, the expanded methods of take could be used between Nov. 1 and March 31 in units 4, 4A, 6, 7, 9, 10, 10A, 12, 14, 15, 16, 16A, 17, 18, 19, 20, 20A, 22, 23, 24, 26, 27, 28, 29, 31, 32, 32A, 33, 34, 35, 36, 36A, 36B, 37, 39, 43, 44, 49, 50,62, 64, 65, 67. On private land they could be used year-round with landowner permission.

But those who want to hunt at night must have written, landowner permission to do so on private property or a permit from the Idaho Fish and Game director on public land.

More information on the proposed seasons and a comment survey is available at bit.ly/3zcYTCY.

On Thursday, a coalition of environmental groups petitioned the U.S. Forest Service to forbid wolf killing by professional and subsidized hunters and trappers in Idaho and Montana federally designated wilderness areas. They argue such prohibitions are needed to protect the wild character of the areas, as mandated by the 1964 Wilderness Act.

The groups include the Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife, Friends of the Clearwater, Humane Society of the United States, Humane Society Legislative Fund, International Wildlife Coexistence Network, Montana Wildlife Federation, Sierra Club, Western Watersheds Project, Wilderness Watch and Wolves of the Rockies. They are being represented by the environmental law firm Earthjustice.

“The wild Clearwater region is the northern half of the largest relatively intact ecosystem in the lower 48 states,” said Gary Macfarlane, ecosystem defense director for Friends of the Clearwater. “Wolves and other species make places like the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness truly wild. This petition seeks to keep it that way.”

Barker may be contacted at ebarker@lmtribune.com or at (208) 848-2273. Follow him on Twitter @ezebarker.