Continuing Federal Monitoring Is Critical
VICTOR, Idaho— Idaho’s wolf population remained stagnant at 786 wolves in 2015, only one more wolf than 2014, according to new state estimates released today. The number of breeding pairs was estimated to have increased from 26 pairs to 33 pairs.
But the state’s claim that the wolf population has remained relatively constant since federal safeguards were first stripped in 2009 was called into question by a recent study in the journal Science finding that federal and state officials have underestimated the impacts of the state’s aggressive hunting and trapping polices. Among other problems, Idaho continues to rely on a convoluted mathematical equation that researchers say is likely to overestimate the wolf population, making it difficult to accurately determine population trends. This year the state was only able to actually document 270 wolves on the ground, but nevertheless estimate there are 786 wolves. In explaining its population estimation technique, Idaho admits that no measure of precision is available for its population estimate.
“Idaho’s claim that the population remains stable is highly questionable in light of aggressive hunting and trapping, aerial gunning and the recent hiring of professional trappers to wipe out wolf packs,” said Andrea Santarsiere, a staff attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “For good reason, science is beginning to question Idaho’s monitoring methodologies.”
The new population estimates come on the heels of the Center’s petition and notice of intent to sue the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to extend the federal monitoring period for wolves in the northern Rocky Mountains. The existing monitoring program, which is required by the Endangered Species Act after protections are removed for a species, is set to expire in May. Ongoing monitoring is crucial in the face of aggressive state-sanctioned hunting and trapping that researchers say is putting northern Rockies wolf populations at renewed risk.
Idaho has been especially aggressive in trying to reduce its wolf population. In 2014 the Idaho legislature created the Idaho Wolf Control Board, allocating hundreds of thousands of dollars to killing wolves. Idaho has also contracted with the federal agency “Wildlife Services” to hunt, trap and aerially gun down wolves in the Lolo Zone and hired a professional trapper to eliminate two wolf packs in the Frank-Church-River-of-No Return Wilderness last winter. The Idaho Fish and Game Department has also turned a blind eye to an annual “predator derby” contest, in which participants win cash and prizes for killing wolves and coyotes — despite an agency policy condemning predator hunting contests as unethical.
The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 990,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.