Newly obtained records from Idaho Department of Fish and Game reveal that between January and September 2020, recreational wolf hunters and trappers, Fish and Game and the federal Wildlife Services killed 35 wolf pups and juveniles in Idaho, some weighing as little as 16 pounds, and likely only four to six weeks old. One 18-pound pup had a smashed occipital lobe and a damaged eye, suggesting it had been beaten. The new records show that, in total, over 256 wolves have already been killed in Idaho in 2020—and the wolf hunting season, which runs for 11 to 12 months in much of the state, is not over.
Wolves in Idaho were removed from the endangered species list in 2011 by congressional decree, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced this week that the removal of wolves from Endangered Species Act protection nationwide is “very imminent.” The recent records from Idaho show what state wolf management really looks like, and it’s ugly.
Under the Idaho Department of Fish and Game’s wolf “conservation,” whole litters of pups and entire wolf packs are being gunned down, some by Wildlife Services in aerial control actions claimed to respond to livestock predation. But a close look at the records show that 35 of these wolves were killed by Wildlife Services in January, February and March of this year, when livestock typically aren’t on the forested landscapes where wolves live. Many of those kills don’t reveal the sex of the wolf taken, suggesting wolves are being shot down and left to rot.
The records also reveal the brutal effects of wolf trapping allowed—and even funded—by the Idaho Department of Fish and Game. One trapped wolf had only three legs with a trap still stuck on one leg. Two wolves had cracked teeth to the bone or shattered teeth trying to bite traps. One wolf trapped by Wildlife Services in July died of hyperthermia, and one wolf was found dead in a private trap. In Idaho, trappers only have to check traps at 72-hour intervals, sometimes leaving animals to languish in traps for days before they die of exposure.
About 400 wolves have been killed each year in Idaho for the past several years, and 2020 seems to be on track to set records. With only about 1,000 wolves in the state at year end, this means about 40 percent of the wolf population is removed each year. This level of population disruption leads to population-level effects among wolves, including population decline, a younger, destabilized population and ultimately more livestock conflicts.
And, Fish and Game is accepting comment on a proposal to further expand wolf-killing in Idaho by allowing wolves to be trapped near dead animal carcasses—reviving an effort to allow glorified wolf-baiting that previously failed following overwhelmingly negative public comments. Comment is due by Sept. 23.
Fish and Game’s extinction wolf policy shows why wolves need to be listed and protected by the Endangered Species Act. This is carnage, not conservation. Decision-making needs to be guided by science, not state-by-state hostility toward native predators.
Talasi Brooks is a staff attorney for Western Watersheds Project.