BOISE • Estimates of the number of wolves in Idaho are well below reality, but limited resources make it almost impossible to get a better survey, one wildlife officials told lawmakers Wednesday.
Despite the constraints, legislators urged the Idaho Department of Fish and Game to continue striving to get better numbers to justify more intense population control measures.
“We need accurate data as we defend our actions,” said state Sen. Monty Pearce, R-New Plymouth, and chairman of the Senate Resources and Environment Committee. “Not just the minimum data.”
Idaho’s wolf population is estimated to be around 600 animals, said Jeff Gould with Fish and Game, in front of the committee.
Recently, Fish and Game attracted criticisms from animal activists after they hired a trapper for the first time to kill two packs in the Middle Fork of the Salmon River. Previously, the department had hired hunters only in the panhandle region.
Wolf activists also turned out to speak against the state’s management during a recent public hearing on updating Idaho’s Elk Management Plan.
“It remains clear today that public sentiment is highly polarized and continues to be charged,” Gould said.
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Under the terms specified when wolves emerged from endangered species protection, the federal government requires Idaho to track and manage the wolf population. Fish and Game tracks wolves using helicopters and radio collars, Gould said. The numbers the department uses are thorough but are limited.
“The cost of wolf management has definitely exceeded what people have forecasted,” he said. “Federal financial support has declined and will cease completely in 2016."
Fish and Game spent $1.4 million last year on wolves, Gould said. The federal government contributed $650,000.
Idahoans have been allowed to hunt wolves since the federal government delisted the predator in 2011. The population has fluctuated over time but federal mandates require the state’s wolf population to stay above 150.
The department received 78 wolf depredation complaints in 2013 and counted that wolves killed 40 cattle, 404 sheep and four dogs, Gould said.
“It appears that a higher level of damage must occur before more control can happen,” said state Sen. Bert Brackett, R-Rogerson.