Another wolf hunt area closed

BOISE (AP) -- State wildlife managers say another Idaho wolf hunting zone has been shut down after hunters filled a state quota.

The Department of Fish and Game has closed the Middle Fork zone, where the limit of 17 wolves was reached Feb. 1. Five other hunting zones have also been shuttered for the same reason.

The wolf season closed in the Southern Mountains zone and in the Palouse-Hells Canyon zone in December. In November, the season closed in the Dworshak-Elk City zone, in the McCall-Weiser zone in west central Idaho and in the Upper Snake zone in eastern Idaho.

Hunters have claimed 146 of the predators in Idaho.

For wolf hunting information, a zone map and other details:

Wolf numbers hold steady

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) -- A new tally of gray wolves in the Northern Rockies shows the population held steady across the region in 2009. That ends more than a decade of expansion for the predators but also shows their resilience in the face of new hunting seasons in Montana and Idaho.

Biologists say preliminary results show the region's total wolf population will be similar to last year's minimum of 1,650 wolves in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming.

That's despite the killing of more than 500 wolves in 2009, primarily by hunters and government wildlife agents responding to livestock attacks.

The latest population estimate was released Jan. 28, in court documents filed in defense of the federal government's decision last year to remove Montana and Idaho wolves from the endangered species list.

Grazing lease rules debated

BOISE (AP) -- Idaho environmental and sporting groups are due to get a better shot at winning competitive state land leases over ranchers, under new rules up for debate this week.

The House and Senate resource committees will take up the rules, which emerged last year in a settlement where state officials promised to end years of discrimination to resolve a federal lawsuit.

A Seattle environmentalist had sued after the Idaho State Land Board awarded seven grazing leases to ranchers in 2006, even though he'd offered more money. Idaho's Constitution requires Land Board members reap maximum returns from such endowment land to benefit public schools.

Laird Lucas, the environmentalist's lawyer, says encouraging competition means more cash for education during tough budget times. If lawmakers reject the rules, the settlement could be doomed.

Agency wants more timber cut

BOISE (AP) -- The Department of Lands aims to increase timber harvests from state land by 16.5 percent annually, in hopes it will increase jobs and revenue to schools.

George Bacon, the agency director, told Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee members Feb. 1 he recommends hiking the annual statewide harvest level from 212 million board feet to 247 million board feet over the next several years.

That could result in 525 new jobs and up to $15 million in additional revenue annually.

Rep. Jim Patrick, a Republican from Twin Falls, questioned if boosting the supply of lumber coming from Idaho forests, coupled with a slumping economy and depressed construction, would further erode prices.

Bacon told him he's counting on the economy to pick up as harvests increase.

"If the economic recovery is going to happen and happens slowly, this activity should hit the street as prices are going up," he said.

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