SUN VALLEY, Idaho — Wolf depredation complaints in Idaho have decreased gradually since the state’s wolf hunting seasons started in 2009.
But the ability of Idaho Wildlife Services, the federal agency that solves human-animal conflicts in Idaho, to fund its wolf control efforts has decreased much more quickly.
During Idaho Farm Bureau Federation’s 74th annual meeting Dec. 5, members approved a proposal that seeks a solution to the agency’s funding reductions.
Wildlife Services conducted 129 livestock depredation investigations related to wolf complaints in fiscal year 2013, a 38 percent decrease from 2012.
According to the USDA agency, confirmed or probable wolf kills of cattle in Idaho totaled 77 in 2013 and sheep depredations totaled 565.
The total number of confirmed or probable wolf depredations in 2013 decreased 26 percent from 2011. Verified cattle losses decreased 44 percent from 2011 and verified sheep losses increased 7 percent from 2012, largely as a result of one incident in east Idaho where 176 sheep were killed.
Idaho’s minimum estimated wolf population peaked at 856 in 2009 but since Idaho held its first hunting season that year, that number has gradually decreased to 683.
As the wolf population increased in Idaho after wolves were introduced here in 1995, livestock depredations increased steadily.
“It’s slowly working its way down again,” said WS State Director Todd Grimm. “Hunting season has absolutely made a difference.”
But Idaho Wildlife Services’ funding has been reduced by almost $750,000 since 2010, most of that a result of federal cuts. That has reduced the agency’s total budget to $2.1 million and significantly hampered its ability to control wolves.
IFBF members passed a proposal that would raise the state brand renewal fee by $25. Brands in Idaho are renewed every five years and the fee is currently $100. The increase would raise about $100,000 a year to help fund Wildlife Services’ animal damage control efforts.
Sheep growers have agreed to increase their wool assessment fee by 2 cents per pound, which would raise $25,000.
A group representing Idaho sportsmen said it would match any increase livestock producers agreed to and Gov. Butch Otter will seek $200,000 to $250,000 from the state’s general fund.
“We need $400,000; I think we’ll be closer to $500,000 when all is said and done,” said Blackfoot rancher Chris Dalley.
Wildlife Services officials said the money could be used to place wolf trouble-shooters at strategic sites across the state, ready to respond to conflicts as they arise.
Fifty-seven individual Idaho producers suffered confirmed livestock depredations in 2013 and 316 have had verified wolf depredations since 1995.
Idaho Wildlife Services has conducted 1,671 wolf depredation investigations on livestock since 1995 and there have been 1,064 confirmed wolf kills of livestock and 221 probable kills.
Based on total livestock depredations by all Idaho predators since 1995, Grimm said, wolves are 170 times more likely to depredate cattle than black bears or coyotes.