VICTOR, Idaho— Four years after Congress attached a rider to a spending bill to remove federal protections for wolves in Idaho, the state’s wolf population has dropped to levels where the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has said it will again consider protection under the Endangered Species Act. As a result of aggressive hunting and trapping seasons, Idaho’s wildlife managers are estimating the wolf population may be as low as 550 individuals with 15 breeding pairs. Under the Fish and Wildlife Service’s 2009 delisting rule, which Congress passed as law, Idaho is required to manage for at least 15 breeding pairs in mid-winter.
At the end of 2010, prior to delisting, an end-of-year report on Idaho’s wolves, from the Nez Perce tribe, confirmed 46breeding pairs. “After fighting tooth and nail for the right to manage wolf populations, Idaho has already proven its true goal is to wipe out most of the state’s wolves,” said Andrea Santarsiere, a staff attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “After less than four years of management, Idaho has encouraged slaughter to the point that the population is now teetering on the brink of endangered status once again. This isn’t ‘management.’ It’s state-sponsored extermination.”
Idaho has held wolf hunting and trapping seasons since federal protection was removed in 2011. So far 1,164 wolves have been killed in Idaho, dropping the state’s estimated breeding population from an estimated 46 pairs to 15-25 pairs. These death tallies do not include the large number of wolves killed by agency staff for conflicts with livestock and wolves killed by illegal poaching. “Our top scientists and the American public overwhelmingly support continued protection of wolves,” said Santarsiere. “Today’s numbers show why management of wolves should never have been turned over to a state agency who has been openly opposed to supporting a healthy wolf population.”
With scientists now predicting there are as few as 15 breeding pairs of wolves left in Idaho, the population may be in grave danger. The 2009 delisting rule requires a five-year post-delisting monitoring period overseen by the Fish and Wildlife Service, scheduled to end in May 2016. But with the ongoing hunting and trapping of wolves, monitoring to substantiate whether Idaho’s wolf population still meets the required criteria to remain off the endangered species list has grown increasingly difficult as collared wolves are killed and removed from the population. The numbers may potentially even be lower than reported by the state and thus lower than the required 15 breeding pairs. “This report should be a wake-up call to Fish and Wildlife Service,” said Santarsiere. “Idaho’s adopted plan of state-promoted execution isn’t working, and the Service must step in to save the wolf population before it’s too late.”