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Wildlife conservation groups petition U.S. Forest Service to stop aerial wolf hunting in Idaho

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Wildlife conservation groups petition U.S. Forest Service to stop aerial wolf hunting in Idaho

Dec 08, 2023 | 6:25 am ET
By Mia Maldonado
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Wildlife conservation groups petition U.S. Forest Service to stop aerial wolf hunting in Idaho
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The scope of wolf hunting in Idaho substantially increased after the 2021 legislative session, when Senate Bill 1211 was signed into law. (Courtesy of the Idaho Department of Fish and Game)

Wildlife conservation groups on Nov. 29 filed a legal petition asking the U.S. Forest Service to prohibit aerial gunning of wildlife in national forests in Idaho. 

The petition was filed by International Wildlife Coexistence Network, the Center for Biological Diversity and Western Watersheds Project.

“Killing wolves from helicopters is barbaric and scientifically unjustifiable, and we can’t let it happen in our national forests,” Andrea Zaccardi, the carnivore conservation legal director at the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a press release. “Our nation’s public lands should not be killing fields. The Forest Service needs to ban this practice to protect public safety, recreation and imperiled animals.” 

According to the press release, the legal petition was filed in response to the “Idaho Wolf Depredation Control Board’s controversial approval of proposals from private contractors to shoot wolves from aircraft across millions of acres in central and southeastern Idaho.” 

But leaders on the Idaho Wolf Depredation Control Board reject those claims. 

Idaho Wolf Depredation Control Board co-chairs say petition claims are inaccurate

The Idaho Wolf Depredation Control Board was established in 2014 to manage funds for wolf depredation control in Idaho. 

Idaho Department of Agriculture director Chanel Tewalt and Idaho Fish and Game director Jim Fredericks are the co-chairs of the Idaho Wolf Depredation Board, as set in Idaho code.

Fredericks told the Idaho Capital Sun that the conservation groups’ claims are inaccurate, and the board does not have the authority to authorize aerial control actions over any private or public land. 

“The Wolf Depredation Control Board approved proposals from livestock producers to reimburse them for wolf control activities in areas where they are experiencing livestock depredations due to wolves,” he said. “It would be up to the producers to determine what methods they employ and whether they choose to use a contractor to do it – but any contract the [board] approves will explicitly state that the producer will comply with all federal, state and local laws, rules and regulations and acquire all necessary authorizations while completing the wolf depredation control project.”

Wolf killings are authorized by the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, he said. 

“All the wolf board has done is provide an opportunity for producers to be reimbursed for costs associated with that,” he said. “As for the aerial control part, the wolf board has made it very clear that if there are funds provided to producers, those funds will have to be used in a lawful manner.”

Fredericks said that hunters still must seek a wolf tag during hunting or trapping season, or Idahoans need to have a kill permit by Fish and Game if it’s for a depredation issue. 

“Whoever is doing this activity would have to have those authorizations, and if they were going to do any of this activity on federal land, they would have to have the authorization from the Forest Service,” he said. 

Tewalt said the Department of Agriculture and the control board are not involved in biological decisions related to wolf management in Idaho. 

“The role of the wolf depredation board is very narrow, and it is related to financial work,” she said. “The wolf board is basically a financial group that enters into contracts related to depredation work, and we oversee those contracts and we pay bills.”

The board does not work with private contractors, but rather it works with ranchers, Tewalt said. The board approves reimbursement requests by ranchers who perform wolf depredation control, or hire private contractors to do that work. 

Wolf hunting in Idaho, and Senate Bill 1211

The scope of wolf hunting substantially increased after the 2021 legislative session, when Senate Bill 1211 was signed into law. 

Boise students speak out after wolf pups named for their school are killed 

The law allows Idaho hunters to obtain an unlimited number of wolf tags, and it also allows the Idaho Department of Fish and Game to use taxpayer dollars to hire private contractors to kill wolves, including on public lands, the Idaho Capital Sun previously reported. Also in 2021, the Idaho Fish and Game Commission expanded the wolf hunting season and hunting and trapping methods.  

Idaho Fish and Game allows wolf hunting and trapping year round on private land, and on public land, there are year-round hunting seasons, Fredericks said. 

Fredericks said there are an estimated 1,200 wolves in Idaho, and the state has a goal to decrease that population to 500.