JOHN MILLER and MATTHEW BROWN
BOISE, Idaho (AP) -- Idaho wildlife managers will propose a wolf hunt without quotas in much of the state, but hunters so far have purchased only a fraction of the tags needed to kill the rangy predators, compared with the first hunt in 2009.
Having no limits on how many wolves can be killed in many hunting areas could be alarming for wildlife advocates who fear Idaho will manage wolves back into federal protection. There would still be quotas on parts of the Montana-Idaho border, where Department of Fish and Game managers seek to preserve a corridor where wolves from both states can wander back and forth and breed.
But with only about 3,100 tags sold through Thursday -- compared with some 30,000 in 2009 -- hunters are likely to fall well short of Idaho Department of Fish and Game's hopes of keeping predator numbers in check.
"We're not getting near the response this year in term of tag purchases that we did that first year," Idaho Fish and Game Deputy Director Jim Unsworth told The Associated Press.
That means officially sanctioned kills, including kills by federal agents, will likely remain the most important tool for wildlife managers.
Idaho and Montana are holding their first hunts for wolves this year after Congress passed a law delisting them, a move that quashed a U.S. District Court ruling that had kept them among animals protected by the Endangered Species Act.
Montana State Fish, Wildlife and Parks commissioners aim to meet July 14 to adopt a quota of 220 wolves to be killed during fall rifle and archery hunts.
Details of Idaho wildlife managers' hunt proposal are due next Tuesday, with the Idaho Fish and Game Commission's approval necessary before a hunt starts, likely in September.
Adoption of season regulations will come at the commissioners' meeting July 27-28 meeting in Salmon, Idaho.
Hunters killed 72 wolves in Montana in 2009 and 188 in Idaho.
Idaho's season was extended to March 31, 2010 but hunters still fell short of reaching a 220 wolf quota.
Unsworth said this year, there will be no quotas in areas where wolves have successfully reproduced to the point that Fish and Game agents and local residents blame them for eating too many big game animals like elk and for conflicts with livestock and traditional ranching.
Those areas include the Lolo area in northcentral Idaho, where the agency wants to reduce the 75 to 100 wolves estimated in the Lolo region to just 20 to 30.
With as many as 1,000 wolves or more already in Idaho, Unsworth says there's little worry the absence of quotas in some areas will result in hunters killing so many wolves that federal U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials in charge of managing endangered or threatened species would step in.
"We can always close seasons the next day," he said. "If we're getting concerned at all we can close the season. We're not going to have a target. We are going to reduce them from where we're at right now."
However, Suzanne Stone, Northern Rocky Mountains representative of the Defenders of Wildlife in Boise, called the proposal reprehensible. She said wolves are a lightning rod species, even though coyotes kill more livestock and cougars more elk per animal than wolves.
"So, just open season?" Stone said. "They don't manage any other kinds of wildlife that irresponsibly. I'm shocked to think that's OK with wolves. This is clearly a political and knee jerk reaction, rather than a biological need."
In corridors including on the Idaho-Montana border northwest of Yellowstone National Park, Unsworth says establishing quotas will provide reassurances that wolves are able to travel back and forth and successfully breed to exchange the genetic material scientists say is necessary to perpetuate a robust population.
Brown reported from Billings, Mont.
Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.