Wolf depredations declined in Idaho in 2015, except for in the Cascade area.
The Cascade area was the lone exception to the trend, and Todd Grimm, Idaho’s Wildlife Services director, who plans to use a helicopter this winter to radio collar wolves in the area.
During fiscal year 2015, which ended on Sept. 30, the agency conducted 91 wolf depredation investigations of varying scope, down from 107 during the prior fiscal year and 129 in FY 2013. The number of investigations peaked in 2009 at 219.
“They’ve been trending down for a while, and this trend continued this year,” Grimm said.
Confirmed and probable wolf-caused livestock deaths have also been dropping. Grimm said there were 53 cattle deaths in FY 2015, down from 62 in FY 2014, 67 in FY 2013 and 100 in FY 2012. There were 135 sheep deaths attributed to wolves in FY 2015, down from 146 in FY 2014, 440 in FY 2013 and 407 in FY 2012.
Ranching industry leaders attribute the declines to more liberal Idaho hunting and trapping regulations and heightened attention on management since federal protection for wolves ended.
“We’ve got a hunting season going,” said Stan Boyd, executive director of Idaho Wool Growers. “Finally, the state is managing its wolf population.”
Grimm’s department removed 70 wolves during FY 2015, up 17 wolves from the prior year.
Though five wolves were destroyed near Cascade, the area’s wolves remained bold this summer in the face of human activity, killing nine cattle, Grimm said. Grimm plans to commence with radio collaring efforts there as soon as there’s blue sky and snow to track foot prints.
“We spent a lot of resources flying, looking for un-collared animals (last summer),” Grimm said. “That wasn’t very productive.”
Wolves killed seven cattle owned by Cascade area rancher Phil Davis, and didn’t bother to feed on the carcases. Davis fears wolf attacks often go undetected by ranchers, as livestock die slowly from hidden wounds.
“Most often, animals are intact, and they look like they could have died from 100 different things,” Davis said.
Emmett sheep rancher John Peterson hadn’t lost an animal since 2013, when Wildlife Services removed a troublesome wolf pack. During an Aug. 6 wolf attack, however, Peterson lost 54 head, the most of any rancher during FY 2015. Nonetheless he’s encouraged there are no longer wolf dens near his grazing territory, and big game numbers appear on the rise.
John Beals, project manager with the Governor’s Office of Species Conservation, said ranchers should apply for compensation for FY 2015 wolf losses by Jan. 31, 2016. He said there’s ample funding for the last fiscal year, and his office recently received $100,000 in federal funding to cover FY 2016.
The Idaho Department of Fish and Game, which monitors wolves for wildlife, also has ample wolf-management funding — roughly $400,000 — due to a surge in tax revenue from gun and ammunition sales, said staff biologist Jim Hayden. For the year, Hayden said the state’s wolf hunters and trappers are on pace to equal the 250 wolves they harvested last year.