With wolves under continuous state management in Idaho since 2011, a new presidential administration under Donald Trump should have no immediate effect on managing the species in the state. However, some wildlife conservationists fear impacts to wolves in areas where they remain listed under the Endangered Species Act, as well as potential federal legislation to dilute the act itself.
As part of its ruling to delist wolves in the northern Rockies, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service set a minimum of 150 wolves and 15 breeding pairs in Idaho to keep the animals off the endangered species list in the state. So far, wolf numbers have remained well above that, with an estimated 786 living in Idaho at the end of 2015.
“The state has been managing wolves for more than five years now,” said Idaho Department of Fish and Game spokesman Mike Keckler. “I think we’ve demonstrated our ability to do that in a very professional manner, and we intend to continue to manage wolves just as we have.”
According to the department’s website, 271 wolves were killed during the 2015-16 hunting and trapping season. So far this season, 67 wolves have been killed by hunters and nine by trappers. The season will end at the end of March or the end of June, depending on the game unit. In the southern Mountains Zone, which includes the Wood River Valley and surrounding mountains, hunters have killed seven wolves so far this season.
Last year, there were no harvest limits in five of the 13 wolf hunting zones; in the other zones, hunters and trappers did not come close to reaching the limits.
“The population has stabilized, and the impacts to prey populations have stabilized, too,” Keckler said. “We aren’t seeing the dramatic growth that we saw prior to delisting.”
Though wolves have been removed from the endangered species list in the northern Rockies, they remain listed in the Great Lakes area and in the Southwest, where there is a population of fewer than 100 Mexican gray wolves.
“We expect certain Republicans in Congress to continue to push to delist all wolves in America, and I think a Trump presidency is very likely to support that effort and sign any bill that would remove them,” said Kierán Suckling, executive director of the Arizona-based Center for Biological Diversity.
He added that he believes there is “a massive new threat to endangered species in Congress.”
Suckling said he expects bills to be introduced to weaken the Endangered Species Act and to increase the difficulty of listing new species. As an example, he pointed to legislation introduced in 2015 by Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., that would automatically remove species from the list after five years. Suckling said that at a cost of $275,000 for each of the 1,200 animals and 750 plants on the list, a procedure requiring relisting would be “insanely expensive and impossible.”
“Now with Trump as president, I expect that will come back,” he said.
Suckling said Democrats’ power to filibuster bills in the Senate cannot be counted on to block those bills.
“There’s no magic bullet,” he said. “If you stop something once, you can’t do it a second time.”