The Northern Rocky Mountain gray wolves have been on a bit of a roller coaster ride this year, bouncing back and forth from federal protection to state management.
While lawmakers hashed out species' status, Idaho prepared for and began to carry out a statewide public hunt as falsely identified photos of "giant" wolves and "super packs" circulated on the Internet.
At the beginning of the year, gray wolves in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming were protected by the Endangered Species Act due to an August 2010 decision by U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy. But wolves were removed from protection in April when Congress approved a rider to the fiscal 2011 federal appropriations bill that ordered the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to reissue a rule published in 2009 that delisted wolves in Idaho, Montana and parts of three other states.
This vote made history, as it marked the first time that Congress had removed a species from the list.
The rider came under fire from conservationists, who filed several lawsuits arguing that the budget rider violated the separation of powers by overturning a judicial decision and protecting the rider itself from further judicial review.
For the moment, wolves in the Northern Rockies—as well as in the western Great Lakes area, which were removed from federal protection this month—remain under state management.
Removal of gray wolves from Endangered Species Act protection opened the door for Idaho's second state-sanctioned public wolf hunt in late August. In contrast to the previous season in 2009-10, hunters were allowed to use electronic wolf calls and leghold traps, provided they also had a trapping license.
A proposal from the Idaho Department of Fish and Game stated that the reason for the season's looser rules was that fewer than 1 percent of hunters who bought an Idaho wolf tag in 2009 were successful.
According to a report from the department, a total of 145 wolves had been killed by hunters as of Nov. 30, 17 of them in the Southern Mountains Zone, which encompasses Ketchum, Hailey, Sun Valley and Bellevue. The report also states that 238 wolves were killed statewide throughout 2011, nine of them illegally and 13 of unknown causes.
Three wolves were killed by federal Wildlife Services at the Flat Top Ranch near Carey in September, in response to a series of reported depredations. Rancher John Peavey said the wolves had attacked and killed one of his calves, a report confirmed by federal agents.
The wolves were part of the Bell Mountain pack, the alpha of which was killed by a hunter near Carey in November. The female wolf had escaped three kill orders and was well known by wolf advocates and trackers in the area.
A prominent hunting picture that turned out to be falsely identified surfaced in early November and depicted a hunter holding up a wolf that reportedly weighed 230 pounds and had been shot in Sun Valley.
According to Todd Grimm, spokesman for Idaho Wildlife Services, the picture has been circulating since 2009 and was likely taken in Alberta. The wolf, Grimm said, likely weighed only 135 pounds.
Katherine Wutz: email@example.com