Wolf seasons amended to comply with law

A member of the Teanaway wolf pack is pictured here on May 12, 2019.

During a conference call last week, Idaho Fish and Game commissioners amended wolf trapping and hunting seasons in response to a newly passed law.

Meanwhile, the majority of Idahoans who commented on the proposal did not support the changes.

Some commissioners described the amendments as a needle-threading exercise as the commission attempted to comply with new wolf-hunting legislation.

Commissioner Brad Corkill, who was the chairman when the Idaho Legislature voted on the law, said he was notified less than 24 hours before it went to vote.

“I find that a tad bit disrespectful and insulting on the part of the Legislature,” he said during Thursday’s call. “They dumped this in our lap … giving us very little options as to how to handle this situation. ‘Disrespectful’ is the kindest word I can come up with on this.”

During a public comment period that closed last Sunday, 12,388 individuals submitted input, of which 42 percent were Idaho residents. Of the Idaho residents, 58.5 percent did not support the proposed changes, according to IDFG staff. The department also received 7,682 email comments on the proposed changes. Of those email comments, 98 percent were from nonresidents.

“I think this could have been handled so much better,” commissioner Don Ebert said during the teleconference call. “I would wish the Legislature would be partners with us.”

The amended seasons take effect Thursday, as does Senate Bill 1211, according to an agency news release.

Changes won’t be reflected in the current printed 2021 Big Game Seasons and Rules brochure, but an updated brochure with the changes is available on Fish and Game’s website.

Senate Bill 1211 established a year-round trapping season for wolves on private property, allowed for unlimited purchase of wolf tags, and allowed for any method used for taking any wild canine in Idaho (foxes, coyotes) to also be available for taking wolves.

In a news release, Fish and Game Director Ed Schriever said the commission’s action provides a “meaningful balance” that focuses on providing hunters and trappers with additional tools to address conflicts between wolves, livestock and other big game.

On public land, in 43 hunting units where elk are below population objectives, or where there are histories of chronic livestock depredation, the commission established seasons with expanded hunting methods from Nov. 15 to March 31. All other wolf hunting and trapping seasons on public land remain unchanged.

On private land, foothold trapping and expanded hunting methods are allowed year-round with landowner permission. Wolf snaring seasons already in place on private land remain unchanged.

“It’s been widely, but inaccurately, reported that the new law will reduce Idaho’s wolf population by 90 percent, however, the commission’s action will reduce wolf conflicts while maintaining a viable wolf population that is not subject to relisting under the federal Endangered Species Act,” Schriever said in the news release.

Expanded hunting methods

Methods outlined in SB-1211 include those legal for taking other wild canines, but closed for taking other big game species, including:

Weapon restrictions (for hunting big game) do not apply for wolf hunting.

Exemption from shooting hours and allowance for spotlight or night vision equipment. Written permission from the landowner is required on private land, and a permit from the director of Fish and Game is required on public land, which is consistent with requirements for spotlighting coyotes at night.

Hunting wolves over bait is allowed on private land with landowner permission.

Motorized vehicle restrictions for hunting big game do not apply for wolf hunting.

Dogs may be used to pursue wolves, and no hound hunter permit is required.

Changes to wolf hunting

Wolf hunting seasons on public land remain unchanged, except expanded hunting methods apply from Nov. 15 through March 31 in areas with a history of chronic livestock depredation or where elk herds are below management objectives, including 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 and 67.

On private land, expanded hunting methods are allowed year-round with landowner permission.

‘Wolves are part of the landscape’

Many conservation and environmental groups have decried the law. Last week, more than 50 groups sent President Joe Biden’s administration a letter urging it to restore Endangered Species Act protections for wolves in the Northern Rockies. On May 26, an emergency petition was filed.

The Fish and Wildlife Service must respond to the relisting petition by Aug. 24.

IDFG managers, however, don’t believe the liberalized trapping and hunting seasons will have much impact on the overall wolf population.

“At the end of the day, wolves are part of the landscape, and I don’t think you’re going to see that change,” said Chip Corsi, Idaho Fish and Games regional manager in Coeur d’Alene. “We’ve managed them pretty aggressively basically out of the gate. I think the guys who are hardcore wolf trappers will tell you it’s not easy to trap wolves.”