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Wolves: 20 Wolves Killed in Idaho To Increase Elk Herd

Feb 17, 2016 06:18 PM EST
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Twenty wolves were killed in northern Idaho as an effort to boost the elk population there, according to the Idaho Department of Fish and Game. Agents from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Wildlife Services killed the wolves from a helicopter during the first week of February.

The Defenders of Wildlife, a national non-profit wildlife and habitat conservation organization, condemned the aerial wolf killing that took place in the Clearwater Region of Idaho as being "based in anti-wolf politics" and not being grounded in actual science.

"Killing wolves isn't going to bring back the elk, and it doesn't address the real issues causing the decline," Suzanne Stone, the Defenders of Wildlife Northwest Representative, said in a statement. "Scientists point to a significant change in habitat conditions in the Clearwater National Forest - due to invasive species and fire suppression-causing elk populations to drop naturally. Killing wolves is simply a scapegoat for these much bigger issues." 

Defenders of Wildlife is fighting back by submitting a petition to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Secretary Tom Vilsack, requesting he bar the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services from regulating native predators for the purpose of elevating game populations, like elk. The petition will also stress the need for the Forest Service, which is responsible for protecting America's national forests, to exercise its jurisdiction to prevent the wolf killing.

When the wolves were named an endangered species, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's recovery plan in 1987 aimed to reintroduce the animals in the northern Rocky Mountains, specifically reintroducing them into Idaho in 1995 and 1996. In 2002, the Idaho Wolf Conservation and Management Plan was adopted by the state legislature, which named the Idaho Fish and Game responsible for wolf management once the wolves were taken off the endangered species list.  In 2006, Idaho and the U.S. Department of Interior entered into an agreement which deemed Idaho an agent for day-to-day wolf management for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. However, in 2010, Idaho Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter gave that responsibility back over to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife service for good. In 2011, Congress required the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to republish the 2009 delisting rule which removes protections for gray wolves in Montana, Idaho, Oregon, Washington and Utah because they are no longer listed as endangered and turns over wolf-management policies to the states.

Since then, the Idaho Fish and Game has been in charge of wolf management and placed them in the same category as big game animals with hunting seasons, much like the ones they have for black bears and mountain lions.

When lawmakers asked an Idaho board how many wolves were killed so far in 2016 and what the cost of the effort has been, the board refused to comment, stating that they did not want to discuss the project as it was ongoing in northern Idaho, according to the Associated Press. However, a 2014 Idaho Wolf Monitoring Report said that there were 360 wolf mortalities in that year, with 256 of those wolves taken for legal harvest and 67 wolves killed by the agency in the entire state of Idaho.

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