Wolf hunters line up for Idaho tags

Aug 28, 2009


Wolf hunters line up for Idaho tags

Jeff Siddoway has a personal stake in hoping Idaho hunters will be able to kill 220 gray wolves when the state’s hunting season for the marauding carnivores tentatively begins on Tuesday, Sept. 1.

For the St. Anthony sheep rancher, this year’s slaughter of a high number of his bucks, ewes, lambs and even guard dogs by wolf packs in the Upper Snake River Valley of eastern Idaho has been heartrending as well as financially devastating.

Siddoway, who serves as an Idaho legislator, estimates he already has lost $35,000 this year to wolf depredation with nearly another month left for his sheep to graze in the mountains. It’s a chilling prospect for what already has proven to be a grim season.

Lambs are fetching only 92 cents a pound this year, down from $1.05 to $1.10 last year. Alfalfa hay shot from $80 to $100 a ton last year to $200 a ton now, boosting his feed bill from $350,000 to nearly $700,000.

"We don’t make that much money. Then, dump this depredation problem on top of that. It’s just crushing. It’s been a nightmare. We’ve let these environmental groups run over the top of us and run us off the range," Siddoway says.

Nearly 40 of his rams used to breed ewes have been killed, costing him at least $24,000 just for the rams he has lost to predators. Siddoway has been working closely with the Idaho Department of Fish & Game and U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to stop the killings, but it’s been a daunting task.

On the first of June, he found 17 of his rams dead in a buck pasture on Sand Creek, north of St. Anthony. Eleven were verified kills; three of the wounded died a few days later. On June 13, wolves killed 10 lambs three miles to the west of there. The next day, two ewes, 16 lambs and a Pyrenees guard dog were mauled.

"If one or more of them kills guard dogs, then the sheep are susceptible to mountain lions, coyotes and bears," Siddoway laments.

Between July 24 and July 26, wolves killed 10 lambs, five ewes and two guard dogs near Dog Creek between Alpine and Hoback Junction, WY. On Aug. 3, 16 more bucks were killed on the Sand Creek pasture. Four animals succumbed to their wounds a few days later. From Aug. 4 to Aug. 7, 10 ewes, 13 lambs and one guard dog were killed by wolves. The same herd had eight ewes and five lambs killed by a grizzly bear.

"We don’t have any guard dogs to chase them off. We just had to get out of our buck pastures. We had taken 146 up there, but had 105 to haul out. This is the worst year we’ve ever had."

On Monday, Aug. 24, Siddoway learned a bear was back among his sheep. That was three days after he discovered there were two more sheep killed in Indian Creek. Because of federal regulations, he is constrained from shooting bears and wolves, but not fox or coyotes that destroy livestock.

On Aug. 17, the Idaho Fish & Game Commission voted 4-3 to allow hunting licenses to be sold so 220 wolves, or about 25 percent of the state’s estimated wolf population, could be killed. The commissioners, by the same margin, earlier rejected a more aggressive alternative plan that would have authorized 430 of the predators or 49 percent of the population to be killed.

Without a hunt, they decided, the wolves could swell to 1,020 by the end of 2009 in Idaho. In July, their counterparts in Montana voted to let hunters in that neighboring state shoot 75 wolves, or 15 percent of the population, starting in mid-September.

The Idaho wildlife regulators said they would stick to their 2008 goal of ultimately reducing the state’s wolf population to about 520. It has been estimated that wolves have been growing 20 percent annually since they were reintroduced in 1995 by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to Idaho, Montana and Wyoming.

Siddoway says he was disappointed four of the commissioners opted not to boost the quota to 440 wolves despite the predators decimating Idaho’s elk and mule deer populations as well as domestic livestock. Wolves have been blamed for a 13 percent drop in cow elk numbers in the Lolo hunting zone. "If I were a sportsman in this state, I would scream bloody murder."

On Aug. 20, 13 environmental groups filed a request asking U.S. District Judge Donald Malloy in Missoula, MT, to impose an injunction blocking the wolf hunts in Idaho and Montana, arguing the wolf population in the region is not large enough to sustain hunting nor prevent genetic disruption for some packs. Malloy will hear the case on Monday, Aug. 31, the day before Idaho’s hunt would start.

In May, the federal government lifted Endangered Species Act (ESA) protection for most wolves in the northern Rocky Mountains, giving Idaho and Montana the opportunity to be the first contiguous states to conduct gray wolf hunts since the ESA delisting.

Hunters quickly bought thousands of the wolf hunting tags when they went on sale on Monday, Aug. 24. Cost is $11.75 for Idaho residents and $186 for non-residents. All hunters also must have Idaho hunting licenses, which cost $12.75 for residents and $154.75 for non-residents. Idaho could be forced to refund the wolf hunting fees if Malloy rules in favor of the environmentalists.

Idaho Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter announced he would be among the first Idahoans to buy the wolf hunting licenses. "He plans to get a wolf tag as soon as his schedule permits," Jon Hanian, Otter’s press secretary, tells the Western Livestock Journal.

"As for the season, the governor has indicated that it will be handled in a professional and sane manner in accordance with state law, just like any other hunting season in the state. He has supreme confidence in our experts at the Idaho Department of Fish & Game to manage these animals just as responsibly as any other big game predator in the state of Idaho."

Idaho officials have estimated 70,000 of the tags could be sold for the wolf hunt that runs through March 31, 2010, in some areas. That’s about half the approximately 140,000 licenses sold annually in Idaho for elk and deer. Idaho Fish & Game Director Cal Groen earlier this year said he sent letters to all states, but none indicated they were interested in taking Idaho’s wolves.

Don Faulkner, a 77-year-old, third-generation sheep rancher, says he has lost 62 head to wolves this year and can’t account for up to 40 more in the Sun Valley region of central Idaho, where he grazes about 10,000 ewes.

Stan Boyd, executive director of the Idaho Woolgrowers Association, says his organization fully supports Idaho Fish & Game management of the state’s high number of wolves, which warrants a statewide hunt and delisting of the predators as endangered species.

"The wolves are here to stay, but that doesn’t mean let’s decimate elk herds and other resources," Boyd says. "Every year it seems the total amount of depredation increases, and there’s lots of damage. Let’s get the hunt on and manage it." — Mark Mendiola, WLJ Correspondent