Idaho's wolf population declined by 11 percent in 2012 as the state continued to put pressure on the predators through hunting, trapping and agency control.
According to the 2012 Idaho wolf monitoring report, 683 wolves living in 117 packs roamed the state at the end of last year. That compares to 746 wolves in 104 packs at the end of 2011.
"It's encouraging to see the trend going down, and we are certainly committed to managing wolves to reduce impacts with livestock and big game (animals), and that means we will continue to focus on increasing harvest, particularly in problem areas," said Jon Rachael, big game manager for the Idaho Department of Fish and Game at Boise.
It is the policy of the Idaho Fish and Game Commission to reduce the number of wolves in the state. However, neither the commission nor department Director Virgil Moore have identified a target population for wolves. During 2012, the commission increased bag limits on wolves, lengthened seasons in some areas and allowed the use of electronic calls.
Of the 425 documented wolf mortalities during 2012, 418 were human-caused, including 329 killed by hunters and trappers, 73 that were killed by ranchers or federal wildlife agents for preying on livestock or to reduce depredation on elk herds, and 16 that were killed for various other reasons such as being hit by automobiles.
Rachael said hunting and trapping appear to have reduced the average size of wolf packs from a high of just more than eight per pack in 2009 to just five per pack last year.
"Even though there are more packs in the state, there are fewer wolves per pack," he said.
According to the report, 92 cattle, 337 sheep and two dogs were either confirmed to have been killed by wolves or wolves were suspected in the deaths.
The report, prepared by the Idaho Department of Fish and Game and Nez Perce Tribe, tracks the number of wolves and packs from Jan 1 to Dec. 31. Since the end of the year, an additional 156 wolves have been killed by hunters and trappers, reducing the population to as low as 527. However, that number is expected to climb quickly. Wolves are denning now, and the bulk of pups will be born between the middle of this month and the middle of May.
"Simply removing them one time doesn't mean they are gone. They will backfill suitable habitat fairly quickly," Rachael said. "That is why you can have a pretty high harvest rate with wolves and you don't see the population plummeting as some folks were predicting early on."
Some environmental groups had claimed the state, through hunting, trapping and control actions, would quickly wipe out the gains made by wolves since they were reintroduced to central Idaho in 1995 and 1996.
Many hunters blame wolves for the decline in elk numbers in places such as the Lolo and Selway hunting zones. Hunters and trappers killed 379 wolves during the 2011-12 season. So far this hunting and trapping season, they have killed 306 and are on a pace that would see wolf harvest decline by 27 percent.
Rachael said some of the harvest decline can be blamed on the fact that there are fewer wolves.
He also noted the 2010 and '11 hunting seasons targeted naive wolves that had not been hunted previously. He said it is likely that some wolves are learning to avoid people and becoming savvy to hunting.
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