BOISE • Thirty-one wolves preying on livestock in Idaho were killed between Aug. 7 and Dec. 31, at a cost of $4,600 each, state lawmakers learned Tuesday.
The state created the Wolf Depredation Control Board last year, to kill wolves that attack livestock, deer and elk, and funded it with $400,000 from the state’s general fund. It also gets money from the livestock industry and from Fish and Game.
Now Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter wants the state to give the board another $400,000 for fiscal 2015-16.
The board is already contracted to spend $235,000 more before July 1, when the new fiscal year starts, and it expects to have $130,000 left then, board member Carl Rey told the Legislature’s Joint Finance Appropriation Committee.
But Rey said the board will need the additional money Otter is asking for, since its first year was unusually slow. The panel wasn’t established until July 1, missing usually busy times in the spring and summer.
Also, wolf depredations were down in 2014, he said. Fish and Game officials recorded 75 attacks on livestock in 2014, the fewest since 2008. But the attacks are cyclical and could go up, Rey said. “We think we’re going to need every dime of that money before this is over,” he said.
So far, the board has spent about $143,000 — or $4,600 per wolf killed, as Rep. Van Burtenshaw, R-Terreton, put it. “If the wolf population grows, how are we going to sustain this type of expense, in your opinion?” Burtenshaw asked.
Brad Compton, state Fish and Game’s assistant chief of wildlife, said the population has been declining slowly since wolves were removed from the endangered species list in 2009 and hunting and trapping resumed. “We’re starting to see some positive responses in reduced depredation,” he said. “The intent, and the future hopefully, is one of needing less rather than needing more.”
The federal government requires the state to maintain 150 individual wolves and 15 breeding pairs. It will monitor Idaho’s wolf management until May 2016.
Fish and Game’s latest numbers show a wolf population well above these levels but dropping, with 550 to 750 wolves in documented packs last year.
But the actual number is estimated at 1,000, because many wolves in remote areas don’t get counted.
The peak was 856 documented wolves in 2009, and the number has been falling since. It was at 659 in 2013.
Decreased depredations and fewer wolves taken by hunters and trappers in 2014 also point to a declining population, Fish and Game officials have said.
They have confirmed 22 breeding pairs for 2014 that meet the federal criteria of two breeding wolves with two pups that survive for a year. They confirmed 20 in 2013.