By Sara Amundson and Kitty Block
Idaho is pulling ahead in a race to the bottom for how states treat wolves. The Idaho Department of Fish and Game recently released a draft wolf management plan that will guide how the state manages the wolves who live there through 2028. The plan aims to reduce Idaho’s wolf population by 60%, primarily by promoting and incentivizing trophy hunting and trapping.
The assault on wolves in this region has a tragic history. Nearly 12 years ago, the U.S. Congress attached a rider to a federal budget bill forcing the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to remove federal Endangered Species Act protections for wolves in Idaho, Montana and parts of Oregon, Washington and Utah. The rider also banned citizens and conservation organizations from challenging that wolf delisting decision in court. Since that time, wolves in Idaho have faced escalating persecution from a state that actually asked the federal government to remove wolves there “by whatever means necessary” back in 2001.
Idaho’s war on wolves intensified in 2021, with the passage of a law that increased the ways in which people are permitted to kill wolves, S.B. 1211. Though hundreds of wolves were already being killed by trophy hunters and trappers each year, the law now allowed them to use traps and strangling neck snares on private property year-round, to hunt them from all-terrain vehicles, to use bait, to chase down wolves with packs of hunting hounds and to hunt wolves at night. The law also removed any limits on how many wolves an individual can kill.
Since 2021, Idaho’s estimated wolf population has already dropped by at least 13%. Using dubious methods that likely overestimate the number of wolves remaining in Idaho, the state currently estimates there are about 1,337 wolves. The new draft wolf management plan proposes to slash the population to around just 500 individuals. To accomplish this drastic reduction, the plan aims to increase and incentivize trophy hunting and trapping by continuing to relax or remove any remaining restrictions on these practices. It would also support bounties for killing wolves, a practice reminiscent of the extermination campaigns that effectively eliminated wolves from the West is the 19th and early 20th centuries.
Idaho’s draft plan is not based on science. The truth is that studies show that wolves manage their own populations based on how much prey and habitat is available, as well as their own complex social structures and territorial nature. We’ve seen evidence of that in the Great Lakes Region, where wolf populations have remained stable for many years, largely in the absence of trophy hunting and trapping.
Killing wolves, especially through trophy hunting and trapping seasons, does nothing to reduce conflicts between livestock and wolves or boost elk and deer populations in the long term. In fact, expanding and promoting trophy hunting and trapping can tear wolf families apart, causing social chaos, and actually exacerbate conflicts with livestock and increase wolf poaching. Not to mention, conflicts between livestock and wolves are already very rare—last year less than 0.01% of the cattle and sheep in Idaho were thought to have been killed by wolves. Yet wolves are frequently persecuted for those few losses. They can even be blamed for losses without any evidence, as was the case recently in Colorado, where wolves were vilified for dozens of cattle deaths that were likely caused by disease.
Moreover, killing wolves will not solve those few conflicts that do occur. Science shows that it’s best to prevent those conflicts from occurring in the first place through nonlethal preventive measures. Such measures could include increased human presence, using devices that emit noise or light, keeping animals in herds to promote their natural defense instincts and using livestock guardian dogs.
Simply put, there are no scientific, ethical or economic justifications to kill wolves or to reduce their populations. Wolves are highly intelligent, social and family-oriented. They keep our ecosystem healthy, mitigate the spread of disease among prey animals and even save human lives by reducing deer-vehicle collisions.
You can help protect Idaho’s wolves from this wanton slaughter by submitting public comments on the draft wolf management plan and on proposed regulation changes. It is imperative that we tell the Idaho Department of Fish and Game that this is not how wolves should be managed. This dangerous plan will set wolf recovery back decades and tear wolf families apart using the most heinous methods.
The release of this alarming plan is further proof that Idaho cannot be trusted to manage wolves and that the federal government must act before it’s too late. Please urge the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to give federal protections to wolves in this region.
Kitty Block is CEO of the Humane Society of the United States.