Idaho Fish and Game announced on Monday that the department has concluded a wolf cull in the state’s northern Lolo zone, ending with 19 wolves killed. The aerial cull was carried out to help mitigate the effects of wolf predation on the region’s plummeting elk population. Surveys in 1989 pegged Lolo’s elk population at 16,000 animals, butin 2010 only 2,000 remained. Officials now believe that only 1,000 elk still live along the state’s northern border with Montana. There are a number of causes for the decline—including predation by other animals, climate change, and loss of habitat—but biologists have singled out wolves as one of the chief factors.
“Ongoing wolf and elk research has shown that wolves have become the primary predator impacting calf and cow elk survival in the Lolo, contributing to a continual decline in total elk population,” Fish and Game stated in a press release.
The Lolo zone is known for its steep, rugged terrain and few roads, making it hard for hunters to access. When wolves were reintroduced into Idaho in 1995, a number of the animals migrated into the region due to its large number of elk and other beneficial conditions, such as extremely limited hunting. This allowed wolves and other predators to thrive. Game and Fish is now considering loosening restrictions on hunting and promoting harvests of predators in an attempt to stabilize the surviving elk population.
“Restoring the Lolo elk population will require liberal bear, mountain lion, and wolf harvest through hunting and trapping (in the case of wolves), and control actions in addition to improving elk habitat,” Game and Fish stated.
On Tuesday, Idaho lawmakers also voted to give the department an additional $400,000 towards its wolf control program, which will be used in culling nuisance packs like those in Lolo. The program is also paid for by hunters through the sale of hunting licenses.
Image courtesy US Fish and Wildlife Service.