Wolf depredations of livestock in Idaho were down significantly during the first 10 months of fiscal 2020, after a record number during fiscal years (FYs) 2018 and 2019. The fiscal year ends in June of each year.
At the same time, the number of problem wolves Idaho Wildlife Services lethally removed this fiscal year is up compared with the same period in FY 2019.
The Idaho Wolf Depredation Control Board was created in 2014 within the Office of the Governor. The board is tasked with directing and managing funds for wolf depredation control within the state of Idaho.
The Wolf Depredation Control Program acts as a conduit to pass money from the state, sportspeople, and livestock producers through the Wolf Depredation Control Board (WDCB) to the Wildlife Services Program under the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.
During the WDCB’s annual meeting on May 19, Todd Grimm, the state director of Idaho Wildlife Services (IWS), reported the agency conducted 180 investigations of wolf depredations of livestock between July 1, 2019, and April 30, 2020.
Of the 180 investigations, 84 were determined to be confirmed wolf depredations, 28 were probable, 48 possible depredations and 20 were determined to be the result of other causes.
During the same period in FY 2019, IWS confirmed 156 wolf depredations of livestock. A total of 113 wolf kills were confirmed in FY 2018.
During a teleconference Grimm said, “In essence, we’ve gone from 156 wolf depredations to 84, which is a significant decrease.”
Grimm cautioned it’s too early to read too much into the decrease in wolf-livestock depredations as most occur from June to August, “when the most amount of livestock are exposed to the most amount of wolves, and there are still two months left in this fiscal year.”
Grimm stated the new radio collars are enhancing the agency’s ability to identify and remove problem wolves.
“Many of the wolves we took this fiscal year, we were able to tie to specific depredation incidents just due to the satellite collars,” Grimm said.
Confirmed wolf-livestock depredations this fiscal year included 24 cows with three calves killed, 42 sheep killed, two dogs and one domestic bison killed. The list of probable depredations included 10 cows killed, 22 calves killed and one injured, and two sheep killed.
Ed Schriever, director of the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, earlier this year estimated the wolf population at 1,000. The number is based on about 13 million photos from nearly 700 remote cameras combined with known wolf mortality numbers.
Shriever said the wolf population peaked early in the summer of 2019 at about 1,500 following pups’ birth. He said subtracting hunting and trapping kills along with other deaths puts the population now closer to 1,000.
In March of this year, Gov. Brad Little (R) signed a bill approving $400,000 for IWS. Livestock producers and sportsmen provide an additional $110,000. That has provided the board about $620,000 each year to fund lethal wolf control efforts.
Earlier this year, the Senate Resources and Environment Committee voted for a hearing on a measure put forward by Sen. Bert Brackett (R-ID-23). The proposal would establish some areas in the state as wolf-free zones, and other areas where the animals have killed livestock would have increased wolf-killing opportunities.
Senate Bill 1247 would create wolf-free zones in 11 Fish and Game hunting units that roughly cover the southwestern part of the state, south of Interstate 84. Those areas are thought to have few if any wolves and Brackett said he’d like to keep the animals from expanding into them.
In addition, the legislation would create chronic depredation zones. Those zones would be created in Fish and Game hunting units where Fish and Game or USDA’s Wildlife Services have confirmed wolf attacks on livestock in any four of the previous five years.
There are 19 hunting units scattered across the central part of the state that would qualify as chronic depredation zones.
In both wolf-free and depredation zones, wolves could be killed year-round. Idaho already allows wolf hunting most of the year across the state, with the season generally closing when the animals are in dens and having pups.
The legislation contains a provision that if wolf numbers in Idaho fall below 200 and 20 packs, state officials would review the wolf management policies.
The committee voted to print the bill, which means a public hearing on the legislation will be held later this year after it reconvenes. The nine-member committee’s two Democrats were the only legislators to vote against the bill. — Charles Wallace, WLJ correspondent