At a regular meeting of the Idaho Fish & Game Commission last week, state game officials introduced a plan designed to keep wolf numbers in check by reducing the current population by as many as 837 animals. According to the Idaho Department of Fish & Game (IDFG), the reduction would be achieved through a combination of hunting and trapping methods. If approved and implemented, the new wolf plan will go into effect this coming Spring.

Idaho’s new wolf management plan would run for six years—through 2028. It aims to bring wolf numbers down to an overall population of about 500 animals. That goal was originally set forth in 2009 after the state’s wolves were removed from the endangered species list by the United State Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS). “Wolf population reduction has been a priority of the Fish and Game Commission,” Idaho Fish and Game Director Ed Schriever said in a recent press release. “There’s been a concerted effort by Fish and Game staff, hunters, trappers, and other partners and agencies to reduce wolf conflicts with livestock and bring the wolf population in balance with prey species, particularly elk.”

Thanks to a 2021 law that significantly expanded wolf hunting and trapping opportunities in Idaho, those efforts are starting to pay off. The IDFG’s most recent population estimate of 1,337 wolves represents a 13 percent decline in overall numbers since the previous year’s data was gathered. “We are encouraged by efforts that have resulted in a drop in wolf numbers, and this aligns with our long-term goal to reduce Idaho’s wolf population,” Schriever said. “We’d like to see it fluctuate around 500.”

In a recent interview on the Western Huntsman Podcast, Schriever said that wolf management has been a primary focal point for the department throughout his four-year tenure. “Our intent is not to exterminate wolves but to manage them so that they are represented on the landscape, that they have the ability to be there, but not to a degree that they’re detrimental to the values that we have here in Idaho,” Schriever said during the interview. “If we can get to there, we’re going to minimize conflict between wolves and elk.”

The minimum threshold for Idaho’s wolf population is 150 animals. If numbers were to fall below that mark, the USFWS could restore Endangered Species Act protections for Idaho’s wolves.

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While the IDFG’s ambitious new wolf management plan is likely to appease livestock owners as well as hunters who want to see the health of the state’s elk herds maintained or even bolstered, it could prove difficult to achieve. Despite expanded hunting and trapping efforts, the state’s wolf population hasn’t fallen below 1,000 animals since at least 2019. Since July 2021, the state has only had 234 human-caused wolf mortalities.

Idaho wolf data
This graph charts Idaho wolf mortality data dating back to July 2018. IDFG

A draft version of the IDFG’s new wolf management plan will be available for public review sometime this month. It outlines population goals, proposed actions for bringing wolf numbers in line with USFWS recommendations, and more specific timelines for the plan’s implementation. The department will accept public comments on the plan for 30 days.

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