I’ve only seen two wolves alive in Idaho.
It was winter and I was driving to work through Pine Creek Pass just west of Victor. A black shape crossed the road ahead but I only glimpsed it. Then I looked left. Standing on a hill watching me was a gray wolf.
I slowed the car and watched it, awe-struck, before it took off up the hill. Heart racing, I drove away.
I’ve mostly kept that story to myself. Wolves in Idaho lost federal protections in 2011, and hunting of these magnificent animals has been permitted ever since.
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I don’t know if the wolves I saw have already been killed by hunters or trappers, but now my fear of someone killing the wolves I witnessed has doubled.
That’s because Idaho Fish and Game commissioners are considering allowing baiting as a way to lure wolves in for the kill. If this proposal is approved at an Aug. 25 commission hearing, Idaho would be the only state in the country to permit such unsportsmanlike conduct.
Idaho already allows hundreds of wolves — far too many — to be killed each year, so baiting would be disastrous for the population.
In 2014 and 2015, the Department of Fish and Game reported hunting deaths of 256 wolves both years. That’s dramatically lower than the 356 killed in 2013 and 329 in 2012.
All of this killing is almost certainly leading to population declines, which is exactly the point of the state’s ever-escalating efforts to kill more wolves. The numbers should scream caution to those managing wolves in Idaho. Under these circumstances, allowing bait hunting is irresponsible at best.
To someone like me, who works to preserve large carnivores that contribute to balanced natural systems, it would be a travesty. It took decades of work to bring these beautiful, ecologically important animals back after they were nearly hunted to extinction. That work wasn’t done just so wolves could be gunned down in cold blood.
But Idaho is working overtime to kill wolves. The state uses aerial gunning of wolves in the Lolo and Selway Zones to increase elk populations. Trappers were sent to kill wolves in the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness, but a lawsuit from the organization where I work stopped that. Idaho even created a Wolf Depredation Control Board to funnel state, sportsmen and livestock producer funds to the federal Wildlife Services agency to eliminate wolves.
State wildlife officials have recently declared they will stop monitoring the wolf population. If commissioners approve baiting, there won’t be any data to determine impacts to the population. That’s a recipe for a population crash. This is the epitome of irresponsible wildlife management that reflects prejudice rather than sound science.
Wolves help keep prey populations healthy, balancing entire ecosystems. With so many wolves already being killed in Idaho, the state doesn’t need to introduce new methods to slaughter these important animals.
Andrea Santarsiere is a Victor-based senior attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity.