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Idaho: "Ready and Able to Manage Wolves"

March 26, 2009.

By Cal Groen, Director, Idaho Department of Fish and Game:

The recent decision by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar to remove gray wolves in Idaho and Montana from the endangered species list was great news for our state.

Idaho has been preparing for this day in wolf management for nearly 15 years.

Idaho Fish and Game will manage wolves in much the same way as we do bears and mountain lions. Healthy bears and lion populations exist across Idaho, and they have done well under the state's classification as big game.

Before the early 1970s, black bears and mountain lions were classified as predators in Idaho with very little protection. Back then it was controversial to change management for these species. Now both are prized big game animals, and their strongest supporters are the hunters who pursue them.

In a few areas, lions and bears are hunted under more liberal rules where they are a factor in limiting their prey base. These populations are carefully monitored, and seasons are adjusted to manage these predators in concert with elk and deer populations. Idahoans in general appreciate their bears, lions, elk and deer and would object strongly if Fish and Game were to do anything that might tip these animals toward extinction.

Wolves are, of course, different animals from the other two large predators, and management will have to be tailored to their unique biological characteristics. But wolves will never take their place among the state's wildlife if Idahoans feel they are not part of the management of wolves, especially while unmanaged wolves remain at numbers well above the recovery objective.

The Idaho Department of Fish and Game will manage wolves responsibly. We have adopted a wolf management plan designed to ensure the long-term health of the region's wolf population, with provisions for hunting seasons focused on areas where wolves and livestock clash and places where big game herds are in trouble.

Where wolves live in Idaho, their prey of choice is elk. There is no question that wolves have affected elk hunting in Idaho. Elk hunting has been reduced in some areas because of unmanaged wolves. Elk are more wary and some have moved into different habitats.

Even so, hunter harvest statistics show that Idaho is still one of the best places in the West to hunt elk.

We at Idaho Fish and Game have some serious work to do. Now we just need some room to do it in. Over the past 70 years, we have done our best to "preserve, protect, and perpetuate" wildlife for the people of Idaho, and with reasonable success. We will continue to do our job.

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