Idaho mulling paid trappers to manage wolf numbers

Boise, Idaho (AP) – Idaho wildlife officials are considering paying private trappers to kill wolves roaming in specific hunting zones where wolves have had a significant impact on elk populations.

The Idaho Department of Fish and Game is mulling several different ideas for using fewer than a dozen proven trappers as way to more affordably and effectively manage and reduce wolf numbers in three northern hunting zones.

"There are certain individuals who have built up some pretty good skills,'' Jeff Gould, a wildlife bureau manager for the agency, told the Idaho Statesman.

The agency is looking for ways to reduce Idaho's wolf population, estimated at more than 500 at the end of the season last year. Hunters and trappers have had some success statewide killing wolves, but Gould says the agency wants to minimize wolf impacts in the Lolo, Selway and St. Joe hunting zones.

The agency is also considering partnering with select trappers on an initiative to fit more wolves with radio collars. Working with trappers is likely to be less expensive than collaring trips using helicopters and staff. Gould said the agency recently spent about $40,000 over three days to fit collars on 14 wolves near Lowman in central Idaho.

Gould said agency officials are considering incentives such as paying trappers mileage or other means of reducing expenses.

"We have not firmed up any kind of specific arrangements yet,'' Gould said. "We're just starting the discussion. Essentially we're just starting to explore options with trappers who are now going back into the backcountry for a second year … to see if we can't offset some of their costs.''

On Thursday, the Fish and Game Commission will also consider at its meeting in Boise a separate proposal that would pay for wolf removal in six other sensitive elk hunting zones. The proposal would divert $50,000 now used to pay Wildlife Services to kill coyotes in southeastern Idaho to protect mule deer to efforts to kill wolves in areas where elk population numbers are falling short of goals.

Both proposals are drawing criticism from wolf advocates.

"How can anyone defend this as responsible wildlife management?'' said Suzanne Asha Stone, Boise representative of the Defenders of Wildlife.

Gould says using the trappers and wildlife services to manage wolves is similar to other measures taken by the agency in the past to target predators in the name of protecting wildlife.

"We've involved sportsmen in the past on depredation hunts on deer and elk,'' Gould said. "This is just facilitating an activity that is already allowed … and is very specific in its nature and location.''

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