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 Starting in three weeks, the state’s gray wolf population—which amounts to 1,560 at most, according to Fish and Game—can be legally whittled down to 150 animals.

A bill signed into law by Gov. Brad Little on May 6 will allow hunters and private contractors to each kill an unlimited number of wolves starting on July 1, potentially removing more than 90% of Idaho’s gray wolf population over the next year.

First, though, the Idaho Department of Fish and Game needs to complete its own public scoping survey on the legislative change. The survey can be found online at bit.ly/3wfq3XR.

The survey asks two questions: Are you an Idaho resident, and do you support the state’s updated wolf season and rules for hunting and trapping?

According to Idaho’s new wolf season rules—achieved through the passage of Senate Bill 1211 during this year’s legislative session—hunters will be allowed to pursue wolves from ATVs, snowmobiles and other motorized vehicles and kill them by any method, including baiting and aerial gunning. The new guidelines will also allow wolf hunters to use night vision equipment and spotlights to locate the animals.

Written to support cattlemen and ranchers, Senate Bill 1211 significantly accelerates wolf harvest by permitting year-round wolf trapping and snaring on private property, allowing Fish and Game to distribute unlimited number of wolf tags and giving the state the authority to hire private contractors to kill wolves. It also directs $800,000 to the Idaho Wolf Depredation Control Board, a state agency that uses taxpayer dollars and funding from Fish and Game to finance lethal wolf-control operations and compensate ranchers for livestock killed by wolves.

Any group or person recognized as a private contractor by the Wolf Control Board will be authorized to conduct large-scale wolf-kill operations in Idaho.

“Wolves may be disposed of by any federal agency, state agency or private contractor,” the new law states.

One private contractor already lined up is the Foundation for Wildlife Management, an organization based in Ponderay that pays trappers up to $1,000 per wolf killed. The foundation is now expanding into Montana, which passed a similarly expansive wolf-killing bill last month.

In response to both Idaho’s and Montana’s wolf bills, a dozen wildlife nonprofits appealed to the Biden administration on Wednesday with a petition asking for new protections for wolves in designated wilderness areas.

The organizations included Hailey-based Western Watersheds Project, Defenders of Wildlife and the Humane Society of the United States. All were represented under environmental law firm Earthjustice.

“During their 2021 sessions, the Montana and Idaho legislatures enacted harsh anti-wolf laws. … One goal of the laws is to artificially inflate elk populations, which are currently at or above population objectives in most management units,” Earthjustice stated in a Wednesday press release. “Wolves are being targeted even though scientific studies show that drought and excessive hunting quotas, not predation, cause some elk populations to decline.”

The joint petition asks the U.S. Forest Service to issue closure orders across nearly 8 million acres of designated wilderness in Idaho and Montana to prevent the killing of wolves by “professional and subsidized hunters and trappers.” Wilderness areas specified in the petition include Idaho’s Sawtooth Wilderness, Cecil D. Andrus-White Clouds Wilderness, Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness, Hemingway-Boulders Wilderness and Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness.

“Wilderness is supposed to be a wild place governed by natural conditions, not an elk farm,” Earthjustice attorney Timothy Preso stated Wednesday.

Erik Molvar, executive director of Western Watersheds Project, shared similar sentiment in a press release.

“Wilderness is a place where natural processes should prevail, and the howl of the wolf should echo from peak to vale,” he said.

Email the writer: ejones@mtexpress.com

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