About half the wolves living in the Wood River Valley and surrounding area last year were killed by hunters and government control actions, leaving about 42 wolves living in the area following the end of the 2013-14 hunting season, according to figures recently made public by the Idaho Department of Fish and Game.
During the hunting season, which ended in the Southern Mountains Zone on March 31, hunters killed 26 wolves, well under the quota of 40.
On Friday, the department released its 2013 Idaho Wolf Monitoring Progress Report, which estimates the wolf population statewide at 659, down from a high of 856 prior to the establishment of hunting seasons in 2009. The number remains well above the 150 wolves and 15 breeding pairs required to keep gray wolves off the endangered species list under the 2009 delisting rule.
The report stated that at the end of last year, Idaho contained 107 wolf packs, down from 117 in 2012. Generalizing from the packs whose members could be counted, the department calculated a statewide average pack size of 5.4 wolves, down 33 percent from the 8.1 wolves per pack that existed during the three years prior to 2009.
The report states that 28 wolves were counted in nine packs in the Southern Mountains Wolf Zone, which includes the Wood River Valley. However, it points out that the number of individual wolves seen cannot be relied on for an accurate total. If the zone’s nine packs are typical of packs throughout the state, about 49 wolves were living there by the end of the year.
The report documents 54 wolf mortalities in the zone last year. Thirty wolves were killed through government control actions, 21 by hunters and three as the result of other human causes.
Twenty-three pups were known to have been born, though only eight survived.
According to the Department of Fish and Game, hunters killed seven wolves between Jan. 1, 2014, and the end of the hunting season on March 31. That leaves 42 wolves remaining from the estimated 49 at the end of 2013.
But Garrick Dutcher, executive director of the Ketchum-based nonprofit Living With Wolves, disputes the department’s estimate of 5.4 wolves per pack, at least in regard to local packs. He contended that the kill quota for the Southern Mountains Zone may be higher than the number of wolves in the zone.
“Prior to hunting, we used to have local packs of about eight, with numbers up to 10 or 12,” he said. “Now it’s often no more than a mated pair or a pair with pups.”
Dutcher said the wolf population may not be sustainable at such small pack sizes. He said packs function best when at least four members are hunting, particularly during birthing season when the breeding female and one other wolf stay with the pups. He said a pack that consists of only a mated pair may have to permanently abandon their pups to stay alive.
There is no trapping season for wolves in the zone.
The report also addresses wolf depredation on livestock. Statewide in 2013, wolves killed 404 sheep and 39 cattle. For the Southern Mountains Zone, the report cites 146 confirmed sheep kills and one probable kill, as well as 23 confirmed and four probable cattle kills.
In addition to the 107 packs counted in the state, 28 border packs were counted last year in Montana, Wyoming and Washington. Those packs established territories overlapping the Idaho border and spent some time in Idaho, the report stated.
The entire report is available at www.fishandgame.idaho.gov/wolves.
Wolf hunting seasons in most of north-central Idaho, including the Middle Fork Zone, remain open until June 30.