Every year, I get a bear and mountain lion tag when I buy my hunting and fishing license in a sportsmans package that includes all the tags and permits.
Ive never killed a bear or a mountain lion, nor do I have a strong desire to do so.
I still carry those tags with me while hunting, and if the opportunity presented itself, maybe I would shoot one, but probably not.
My primary hunting motivation is to eat what I kill, and Im not excited about eating either of those animals. A bear or mountain lion hide also wouldnt match my wifes idea of home decor.
I think both mountain lion and black bear populations are healthy, and in most cases, in balance with their prey species.
A wolf tag did not come in my sportsmans package (they do now), and I recently paid $10 of my hard-earned cash (no smirking, please) to buy one.
When I was at the store buying my tag, two different people suggested I buy five of them. Im guessing its not because they think I am such a skilled hunter, they just want wolves gone, or greatly diminished. Feelings still run strong among hunters when it comes to wolves.
I dont hate wolves, nor was I making a political statement by buying a tag. I also wasnt trying to make friends or enemies with my purchase.
Whether we like them or not, I accept that wolves are now part of Idahos wildlife tapestry. I think their numbers need to be kept in check, just like all other predators, and I think we currently have too many wolves.
Idaho Fish and Game officials estimate there were 900 to 1,100 wolves in the state before wolf season opened in August. Hunters have killed about 75 so far.
Ive spoken to many people who spend a lot of time in wolf country, and most are convinced there are a lot more than are being counted. F&G officials agree its a conservative estimate, which they would have to defend in court if challenged.
If there are more wolves than estimated, the actual wolf population, and its effect on elk and deer herds, could increase substantially.
For sake of simple math, lets say F&Gs estimate is 1,000 wolves and its 10 percent low. Thats another 100 wolves, and that much more prey required to sustain those wolves.
If its 20 percent low, theres another 200 wolves. You see how quickly the numbers add up, and how many more elk and deer are required to sustain those additional wolves.
I think its reasonable to say wolves are a significant factor in declining elk herds and harvests in the last decade.
I think the predator/prey relation between wolves and elk is out of balance is because in several cases, such as elk herds in the Clearwater and Sawtooths, wolves are likely preventing elk herds from rebounding.
If thats the case, I shouldnt strictly rely on others to thin them out when I have the ability to contribute.
My comfort zone is probably between 500 and 600 wolves, which is more than four times the minimum number required to keep them off the endangered species list, but about half of whats probably out there now.
Population control isnt my only motive for buying a wolf tag. Ive heard of numerous cases of wolves stalking people. Whether the wolves are just curious, or actually sizing them up, I dont know. I also want to protect my dog if were in the woods and encounter an aggressive wolf.
If I am in either situation, I want all my options open. I can shoot a wolf without a tag if one is aggressive toward me, but I dont want to defend myself against a wolf, and then have to defend myself that it was justifiable to shoot it.
A $10 wolf tag takes that issue off the table.
Would I shoot a wolf if it wasnt threatening me or my dog? Would my desire to have fewer wolves override my only kill what you eat ethic?
I dont honestly know, and odds are good I wont find out. Im not looking for a wolf, so a wolf will have to find me before its a question that has to be answered.
Roger Phillips: 377-6215, Twitter: @rogeroutdoors