An Idaho Department of Fish and Game official said Thursday the state will use aerial gunning and professional and government trappers to kill wolves in the Lolo Zone, even as public hunting and trapping seasons continue.
Dave Cadwallader, supervisor of the department's Clearwater Region, said he wants a multipronged approach to wolf control in the difficult-to-access area where elk herds are hurting.
"My goal is not to wait," he said. "Let's layer all of those tools over the top of each other and try to implement each of them."
The department's conservation officers who patrol the Lochsa River portion of the Lolo Zone are poised to begin trapping efforts in the next several days. The department is seeking to hire an experienced wolf trapper from Alaska or Canada to work in the more remote North Fork Clearwater basin, and plans to enlist the help of federal agents.
Idaho's wolf hunting season opened in late August, but only six wolves have been harvested in the Lolo Zone that includes the Upper Lochsa and North Fork Clearwater river basins.
That is far fewer than the 50 to 60 wildlife managers want to remove from the area.
Researchers from the department determined wolves are the primary cause of elk mortality in the zone.
This spring, shortly after Endangered Species Act protections were removed, the department used helicopter gunning to kill five. The effort was suspended because of its high cost and low success rated.
This year, aerial gunning will be timed to occur when snowpacks are heavy even at lower elevations. Snow makes the animals easier to see.
Wolves in Idaho and Montana were returned to state management last spring after Congress removed federal protections. A handful of environmental groups, including the Moscow-based Friends of the Clearwater and the larger Center of Biological Diversity, are challenging that move as unconstitutional and waiting for a ruling from the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.
Kieran Suckling, executive director of the Center for Biological Diversity called the extra wolf control measures angering and above and beyond the careful management state officials promised before delisting.
"The states were talking about measured actions and it turns out as soon as federal protection were lifted they are using every possible means they can to kill as many wolves as they can and there is nothing measured or rational about this," he said.
Wolf hunting season runs through June 30 in the Lolo Zone and a four-month wolf trapping season opened last month in the Lolo, Selway and Frank Church zones and parts of the Panhandle and Dworshak-Elk City zones. Cadwallader said the department is still hopeful trappers and hunters will be successful.
Eric Barker can be reached at (208) 848-2273, or by email at email@example.com.