JEROME, Idaho • Hunters overwhelmingly back more aggressive wolf population control measures, according to comments made on the Idaho Fish and Game Commission’s draft elk management plan.
The commission got its first glimpse of those 442 comments Thursday at its quarterly meeting in Jerome. Predation was far and away the top concern, outstripping other worries, including multiple zone and tags and habitat management.
Many hunters who testified to the commission Wednesday night said the reintroduction of wolves is the biggest threat to the elk herds.
Kimberly elk hunter Byrd Golay testified that the state’s wolf problem is becoming “epidemic."
“You’ve got to give those elk a chance,” he said.
The elk plan was last updated in 1999 — a time when game managers suspected wolves would influence future elk numbers, but were unsure of that impact, said Craig White, plan coordinator. In some areas, elk numbers have dropped significantly since the mid 2000s because of wolves’ presence.
“You knew it was coming, but until you see it play out on the ground, it’s tough to say,” White said.
The elk plan was viewed by 1,203 people during the comment period. Residents of the southwest and panhandle regions made up the majority of the 442 comments. More than 150 written comments called for bolstered wolf population control measures. Just 19 commentors wanted no wolf control measures.
Fish and Game is hoping for final adoption of the plan in early 2014. Commission members had little to say Thursday about the draft proposal.
White said the elk draft plan would more aggressively target predators.
“As far hunters go, I think they are seeing we are stepping up and talking about predation, which is on their minds,” he said.
The plan “dovetails” into an existing predation management policy that also covers bears and mountain lions.
White stressed predator control is not a one-size-fits-all solution to hunters’ gripes about elk populations. In some areas — such as the rugged, wilderness in the northern portions of the state — it’s a “no brainer” wolves have cut populations. But elk decline in other areas may be the result of overharvest or other factors.
“We don’t need aggressive wolf management here (in southern Idaho zones) outside of making sure it doesn’t cause damage to cow and sheep operations,” he said. “Our problem here is that we have so many elk that they are causing problems on the fields.“
And therein lies the other main goals of the elk plan — to balance predation with harvest opportunities, habitat changes and agricultural concerns.
White said Fish and Game initially sat down and considered elk population numbers and against hunters’ desires and preferences. For example, White said hunters were surveyed on if they had to choose between hunting elk every year, or being able to hunt mature, trophy bull elk every 10 years.
“People still want (those trophies) but by and large it is being able to hunt with family and friends and having over-the-counter tags,” he said.
The plan also addresses elk habitat and the damage growing elk populations have on crops. White said Fish and Game hopes to increase personnel time to work more closely with landowners.
“Even though we’ve lost elk in the backcountry, we’ve gained them in other areas and could potentially gain more, but we need to work with land owners because they support a lot of elk … and we want their support,” he said.