Courtesy of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
BOISE — A state official involved in controlling problem wolves believes livestock depredations by the predators have reached a low point and flat-lined, evidencing that Idaho wolf programs are on the right trajectory following the recent end of federal involvement.
In Fiscal Year 2013, Todd Grimm, director of Idaho Wildlife Services, said his office killed 78 wolves, all due to reports of livestock depredation. In Fiscal Year 2016, which ended Oct. 1, his office destroyed 70 wolves, 50 of which were tied to livestock depredations. The recent numbers were about the same as during FY 2015.
Once numbers are tabulated on total depredations, Grimm expects to see a slight drop from the prior year. Grimm believes depredation cases have now gotten about as low as they’re going to get, and the state experienced no “really big kills anywhere and didn’t have any super hot spots.”
“I think this is what we can expect unless some other dynamic changes,” Grimm said. “We seem to be getting to a management level where there’s always going to be losses, but we’re doing our best to minimize those losses as much as we can.”
Dustin Miller, administrator with the Idaho Governor’s Office of Species Conservation, believes the state has greater flexibility and should manage wolves more effectively and efficiently, having crossed a five-year post-delisting management threshold in May. Prior to achieving that milestone, the federal government held the state to rigorous monitoring and recovery requirements, he said.
“We’ve got the ability to act quickly to depredations as they arise,” Miller said. “We don’t have the federal government calling the shots or looking over our shoulder any more.”
In recent years, Miller’s office has covered ranchers’ wolf depredations at full market value, through a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service program that divvies $1 million among states where wolf kills occur. Half of that funding goes toward preventative programs, and Miller said a couple of Idaho cattle ranchers have used it to add range riders, with good results.
Jim Hayden, staff biologist with the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, believes his department is now free to pursue more “biologically meaningful” work following the end of federal oversight. Hayden explained IDFG was required to use “outdated” monitoring techniques, such as collaring animals, and had to make pack size estimates during mid-winter, rather than at the start of wolf breeding season.
The department has shifted toward an “occupancy modeling approach” involving DNA testing of scat and a network of remote cameras spread throughout a grid to assess pack distribution. The department set up the cameras during the early summer and is now finishing collecting them. A few small areas were more intensely monitored with cameras.
Hayden said staff are now poring through “millions of pictures,” which also provide good data on cougars and other wildlife.
Hayden said harvest rates of Idaho’s wolf hunt have steadily declined, and elk and deer populations are on the rise — though other factors such as recent mild winters also play a role in big game survival.
IDFG also recently started discussions about adjusting its wolf hunt regulations in certain areas to help avoid potential livestock depredations, Hayden said.