BOISE, Idaho — The Idaho Department of Fish and Game has proposed allowing sportsmen to lure wolves with bait, hoping to better utilize hunting as a tool to thin the predator’s numbers where livestock and big game depredation is most rampant.
Idaho Fish and Game Director Virgil Moore said members of the department’s Wolf Depredation Control Board have also had preliminary discussions about offering a bounty on problem wolves. The board — established by the Legislature in 2014 to manage funds directed at wolf depredation control — includes representatives from IDFG, the Idaho State Department of Agriculture, the ranching industry and the general public.
Moore explained wolf-related livestock depredations are at an all-time low, but in recent years, the state, ranchers and sportsmen have had to offer financial assistance to offset federal funding cuts to USDA Wildlife Services, which is authorized to kill problem wolves.
“The use of sportsmen who pay for the opportunity to hunt or trap is traditionally our best method of managing wildlife populations,” Moore said.
According to a report, Wildlife Services killed 75 wolves in 2015, from a statewide population of at least 786. The report confirmed there were 35 cattle and 125 sheep depredations that year.
In 2016, Moore said his department issued 35,000 wolf tags. Hunters — most of whom were pursuing other game — harvested 139 wolves. Trappers claimed another 131 wolves.
Moore said bear hunters who use bait are allowed to shoot any wolves they may attract incidentally, provided that they also hold a wolf tag. He hopes the proposed wolf bait rule, which must be approved both the Legislature and the Idaho Fish and Game Commission, will encourage “more wolf hunters to go out in the field and just pursue a wolf, like bears.”
The public comment period on the wolf bait rule change was scheduled from July 5-26. Moore said IDFG has received thousands of comments — mostly out-of-state form letters in opposition. Opponents of wolf baiting, including the Idaho Conservation League, fear the practice wouldn’t constitute “fair chase” and would lead wolves to become “nuisance” animals by encouraging unnatural habits.
The Idaho Cattle Association hasn’t submitted formal comment, but ranchers support any tool to help officials address wolf overpopulation, said Executive Vice President Cameron Mulroney.
“If this is a method to help hunters, this may be a good way,” Mulroney said.
Moore said wolf baiting would be allowed only in certain hunting units. There would be no limit on bait permits, which could be used throughout the 10-month wolf hunting season.
Hamer rancher Richard Savage, chairman of ICA’s wildlife committee and a member of the control board, is an advocate for the bounty concept.
“The thing we like as livestock people is we get the wolves that are committing the depredation,” Savage said. “If there’s such a thing as good ones and bad ones, you get the bad ones.”
Moore said IDFG sportsmen dollars would fund a bounty, which would also have to undergo a thorough public-input process. He said a state organization called the Foundation For Wildlife Management already offers payments to help trappers defray costs of harvesting wolves in remote areas. The department currently pays sportsmen a bounty for every lake trout they remove from Lake Pend Oreille in Northern Idaho, to benefit native fish populations, but IDFG hasn’t yet offered bounties on game animals.