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Wolf Closeup

Rocky Mountain gray wolf

Much has been said and written about wolves in Yellowstone National Park. But what has happened with wolf reintroduction in Idaho?

The Idaho Rangeland Resource Commission invites you to learn more in a five-part educational series about wolf reintroduction in Idaho. The series traces the history of wolf and predator management from the settlement of the West to the present day.

When wolves were first reintroduced to Idaho in 1995, wolf advocates were overjoyed. They went camping in the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness to hear wolves howl in the woods at night. But it wouldn’t take long for wolves to leave the wilderness and prey on livestock. Less than two weeks after wolves were released, the first livestock kill occurred near Salmon. A dead calf was found near a dead wolf.

“It was intense,” recalls Layne Bangerter, who responded to the scene for USDA Wildlife Services. “The citizens of Salmon, Challis, were on edge. The classic clash between the federal government and the state and local government was happening right in the wild west of Idaho.”

The IRRC series explores just how wolf populations exploded in Idaho, reaching the target of 10 breeding pairs in just three years. Multiple lawsuits delayed delisting from the Endangered Species Act for 16 years. By then, Idaho had an estimated population of at least 1,000 wolves, instead of 30 envisioned in the federal recovery plan. Chronic livestock kills far exceeded initial estimates and big game populations are suffering. Now wolves occupy Idaho statewide — from Interstate 84 to Canada.

“We waited so long to implement management actions. And this predator dominated the landscape in a growth scale that they over-consumed the forage base in many areas,” said Virgil Moore, who recently retired as director of the Idaho Department of Fish and Game.

Today, the challenge is how to manage wolves without causing undue harm to ranchers, livestock, elk hunters, hunting outfitters and the rural Idaho economy. Wolves have impacted ranching, elk hunting and wildlife watching. Indeed, a host of unforeseen issues occurred that no one anticipated or expected; the challenges continue to this day.

The Rangeland Commission invites everyone to learn more about the challenges of wolf management, how your neighbors in rural Idaho are being affected, and how wolves could affect ranchers in the Magic Valley, the South Hills and Owyhee County.

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A five-part series on wolves by Steve Stuebner for the Idaho Rangeland Resource Commission begins July 17 in the Times-News and at Magicvalley.com.

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