The Idaho Department of Fish and Game (DFG) proposed this week that hunters be allowed to use bait to hunt wolves in the northern part of the state. According to The Spokesman-Review, officials hope that more wolf harvests will decrease the impact of the predators on elk in the upper St. Joe River drainage. The DFG stated that wolves are partly responsible for population decline and strange behavior in elk, including a migration to southeast Idaho that farmers and ranchers are calling an “invasion.”
The Associated Press reported that DFG biologists are increasingly worried about calf ratios. Recent aerial surveys found that the number of elk calves have dropped drastically. The animals are also showing up in habitats unused to supporting elk.
“One of the things that has changed is elk distribution,” Fish and Game program coordinator Toby Boudreau told Boise State Public Radio. “Over the past 15 years we’ve seen elk populations increase in places that we really didn’t have elk in the mid to late 90s.”
Thousands of elk roamed into Elmore County as the result of wildfire and wolf predation. This leaves elk populations in the northern parts of the state depleted and also presents a problem to local residents. Elk are eating and stomping a swath through southwestern Idaho, leading to a plea for help from farmers and ranchers. Last year the DFG hired a professional hunter to eliminate two packs in the Middle Fork Salmon Area. The hunter was recalled after killing nine wolves.
“This action was an important step toward achieving our goal of stabilizing the Middle Fork elk population,” DFG director Virgil Moore told The Idaho Statesman.
It did not appear to have been enough. The DFG will be releasing the proposal for public comment at a February 27 open house as part of its Middle Fork Management Plan.
Several animal rights groups have already announced their opposition to the proposal, including many of the organizations that sued over the hiring of the professional hunter. The proposal must be approved by the Fish and Game Commission and state lawmakers before it takes effect.