6 May 2008, 7:21pm
Population Dynamics Predators Wildlife Policy
by admin

Idaho Wildlife Services Wolf Activity Report

USDA-APHIS Idaho Wildlife Services Wolf Activity Report Fiscal Year 2007

Full text [here]

Selected excerpts:


This report summarizes Idaho Wildlife Services’ (WS) responses to reported gray wolf depredations and other wolf-related activities conducted during Fiscal Year (FY) 2007 pursuant to Permit No. TE-081376-12, issued by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) June 16, 2006. This permit allows WS to implement control actions for wolves suspected to be involved in livestock depredations and to capture non-depredating wolves for collaring and re-collaring with radio transmitters as part of ongoing wolf monitoring and management efforts.

Investigations Summary

WS conducted 133 depredation investigations related to wolf complaints in FY 2007 (as compared to 104 in 2006, an increase of almost 27%). Of those 133 investigations, 88 (~66%) involved confirmed depredations, 19 (~14%) involved probable depredations, 20 (~15%) were possible/unknown wolf depredations and 6 (~5%) of the complaints were due to causes other than wolves.

Based on Idaho WS investigations, the minimum number of confirmed and probable livestock depredations due to wolves in FY 2007 was:

a. Confirmed:

-41 calves (killed), 8 calves (injured) (as compared to 18 calves killed, and 4 calves injured in FY 2006)

-10 cows (killed), 2 cows (injured) (as compared to 5 cows killed and 2 cows injured in FY 2006)

-219 sheep (killed), 41 sheep (injured) (as compared to 182 sheep killed and 17 sheep injured in FY 2006)

-6 dogs (killed), 4 dogs (injured) (as compared to 4 dogs killed and 3 injured in FY 2006)

-1 mule (injured) (WS did not record any “confirmed” wolf depredations on horses/mules in FY 2006).

b. Probable:

-20 calves (killed), 1 calf (injured) (as compared to 9 calves killed and 1 calf injured in FY 2006)

-3 cows (killed) (as compared to 1 cow killed in FY 2006)

-14 sheep (killed), 148 sheep (missing-presumed dead) (as compared to 30 sheep killed and 124 sheep missing and presumed dead and 1 injured in FY 2006).

- 5 dogs (killed) (WS did not record any “probable” wolf depredations on dogs in FY 2006).

- 1 mule (killed) (WS did not record any “probable” wolf depredations on horses/mules in FY 2006).

Incidental Takes

There were no incidental takes of any wolves during WS wolf control actions in FY 2007. However, on January 31, 2007, 2 wolves were found dead near M-44 devices that had been set to control depredating coyotes. The Wildlife Specialist who put the M-44s out had complied with prior guidance from USFWS officials to reduce the likelihood of a non-target take and was in compliance with all applicable EPA regulations. IDFG, FWS Law Enforcement and the Idaho Department of Agriculture were immediately notified of the incident.


WS conducted 133 wolf-related investigations in Idaho during FY 2007, compared to 104 investigations during FY 2006 (~27% increase from FY 2006). WS spent approximately $387,000 of appropriated and cooperative funds responding to complaints of reported wolf predation, conducting control and management actions, (salary and benefits, vehicle usage, travel and supplies) and for other wolf-related costs (equipment and supply purchases, meeting attendance, etc). Of the 133 reported wolf depredation investigations conducted in FY 2007, 88 (~66%) involved confirmed wolf predation. The control actions that followed confirmed depredations resulted in the lethal removal of 48 wolves (compared to 33 in FY 2006) and the radio collaring and release of 10 wolves.

The 107 depredation investigations that ID WS conducted that resulted in “Confirmed” or “Probable” wolf related damage rose about 53% (there were 70 in FY 2006). Confirmed and probable cattle losses more than doubled from FY 2006 levels. Verified (“Confirmed” & “Probable”) damage to sheep rose at about the same rate that the wolf population rose, about 20%.

The large increase in cattle depredations is primarily associated with 6 packs/groups of wolves in FY 2007. These packs/groups were responsible for almost 46% of all of the verified cattle losses in the State. The Copper Basin pack killed at least 6 head of cattle. The Jureano Mountain pack killed at least 5 head and injured at least one more. The Moores Flat pack killed at least 8 head and injured at least 1 more (as well as killing 27 sheep and a guard dog). The Morgan Creek pack killed at least 4 calves. The Moyer Basin pack killed at least 4 head of cattle and injured at least 2 more. And the suspected group of wolves associated with B-327 in the Cascade area killed at least 7 head of cattle.

The Copper Basin, Jureano Mountain, Morgan Creek and Moyer Basin packs have all been involved in multiple verified livestock depredations for years now. The suspected group associated with B-327 is occupying an area that both the Orphan and Gold Fork packs used to inhabit before most of them were removed following repeated livestock depredations. The Moores Flat pack was the worst depredating pack during the summer, probably because much of their territory overlapped private and public land used for livestock grazing (both cattle and sheep) which contained relatively low deer and elk populations.

Even though all of these packs, with the exception of the wolves associated with B-327, were subjected to incremental lethal removal during FY 2007, they continued to kill livestock. WS recommends that if/when these packs/groups are involved in depredation activity again, the entire pack(s) be removed. The only pack slated for removal in FY 2007 was the Moores Flat pack and we suspect that at least 2 members remain in the pack.

Two more packs, Jungle Creek and Packer John, accounted for almost half of all the sheep that were verified killed and/or attacked by wolves in Idaho in FY 2007. WS confirmed that these two packs killed 83 sheep, injured 40 and probably killed another 84. All of this occurred in only three depredation incidents. WS was able to respond and lethally remove wolves after 2 of the depredations and no more depredations occurred. The depredation where WS did not do any removals took place as the sheep were being trailed out of the Payette National Forest and no control was carried out.

An area of unique concern arose in July when members of the Phantom Hill pack began killing sheep on grazing allotments in the Sawtooth National Forest near Ketchum. Even though one member of this pack had already been radio-collared by IDFG earlier in the year, WS was requested to radio-collar an additional animal. (Normal protocol would have called for incremental lethal removals to begin). After WS radio-collared a second animal and the pack continued to kill sheep, IDFG was still reluctant to approve any lethal control. IDFG opted for a non-lethal approach because of concerns about the potential reactions from local wolf advocates if lethal control were to be exercised. In an effort to prevent more depredations, WS provided “less than lethal” ammunition training to the herders in the area and provided radio activated guard boxes to the producers to help harass wolves from the sheep. WS also spent considerable time on the ground trying to keep the sheep and the wolves separate. Depredations continued in spite of these nonlethal efforts. While WS recognizes the sensitive position IDFG found itself in, limiting control actions to a strictly non-lethal approach in a situation like this is inconsistent with the intent of the rules under which wolves were reintroduced, and essentially violates a critical promise that was made at the time of the reintroduction. The original (1994) 10j rule clearly stated that all chronic depredating wolves would be removed from the wild (either killed or placed in captivity), and while the current (2005) 10j rule appears not to contain this same explicit language, the 2005 rule was arguably meant to allow even greater latitude in exercising lethal control when wolves attack livestock. Sheep owned by at least 4 different producers were exposed to the Phantom Hill pack’s depredation activity in FY 2007 and predation is expected to continue during the 2008 grazing season. WS recommends that if/when wolves from the Phantom Hill pack commit livestock depredations in the future, the intent of the original reintroduction rules and normal protocols should be followed, providing for lethal removals until the depredation activity has ceased.

While the McCall area still had several confirmed depredations on sheep by several packs in FY 2007, the severity of most of the depredations was not as extreme as in previous years. The Blue Bunch, Lick Creek, Carey Dome and Jungle Creek packs all caused depredation problems again in FY 2007. They were joined this year by the Hard Butte pack that began occupying area once occupied by the Hazard Lake pack before they were removed. Of the McCall area packs, only the Jungle Creek pack committed large “surplus killing” depredations during the year. Accordingly, 4 of their members were lethally removed. The responses to depredations seem to be working in this area, so WS is not recommending any change.

A quick look at where wolf depredations take place reveals some interesting data. Just over half of the verified wolf depredations in FY 2007 took place on private land. More than 2/3 of all verified cattle depredations and just under 1/3 of all verified sheep depredations took place on private land. This data does not necessarily indicate that wolves kill cattle on private land at a higher rate than they do on public property, but it may be indicative that remains of wolf-killed cattle are more difficult to detect on public land grazing allotments than on fenced private pastures. Many wolf-killed cattle on public lands grazing allotments are probably never discovered (Oakleaf 2002).

Of the estimated 83 wolf packs in Idaho in FY 2007, WS was able to verify that at least 36 of them were involved in livestock depredations. Thirteen of the packs; Carey Dome, Copper Basin, Galena, High Prairie, Jureano Mountain, Lemhi, Moores Flat, Morgan Creek, Moyer Basin, Phantom Hill, Steel Mountain, Sweet/Ola and the group associated with B-327, were involved in at least 3 depredations each and were responsible for almost 51% of the total cattle losses and 37% of the total sheep losses. These 13 packs were involved in at least 65 livestock depredations (~61% of the all the verified wolf depredations in Idaho in FY 2007). WS lethally removed 32 wolves, almost 67% of the total take by WS, as a result of the depredations caused by these 13 packs. The data in Figure 6. may suggest that the proportion of Idaho’s wolf packs implicated in “chronic” depredations is increasing as wolf packs expand out into marginal habitat, where they also come into more conflict with livestock.

To help put this information from 2007 in perspective, an estimated population of about 750 wolves in Idaho was responsible for 422 confirmed and probable sheep and lamb deaths and injuries, along with 84 cattle and calves, or about .67 head of livestock attacked per wolf on the landscape. An estimated mountain lion population of about 2,500 animals in Idaho was responsible for 220 confirmed and probable sheep and lamb deaths, or about .09 head of livestock per individual lion present. And an estimated black bear population of about 20,000 animals was confirmed to have killed 78 sheep and 2 cattle, or about .004 head of livestock per individual black bear present. In the examples cited above, individual wolves appear to have been more than 7 times as likely to attack livestock as compared to individual mountain lions, and about 167 times more likely than black bears to attack livestock. These comparisons may help provide insight into why some livestock owners harbor such strong feelings about predation by wolves.

WS continues to strongly recommend that in those cases where our program’s efforts are unsuccessful in resolving chronic wolf depredation problems within 45 days of the most recent depredation, particularly if an implicated wolf pack, or group of wolves, has a history of livestock depredations from more than one previous year, that additional flexibilities, such as expanding the “45-day rule”, be allowed in dealing with these problems. As an example, attempts to remove depredating wolves during the summer grazing season are sometimes complicated by human recreational activity and the presence of livestock and/or nontarget wildlife species during trapping operations. If WS efforts to remove depredating wolves during the summer months are unsuccessful, and it may reasonably be expected that depredations will reoccur during the next grazing season, then WS would like to have the flexibility to reinitiate control efforts several months later, during the winter months when implicated wolves may be more vulnerable to removal. We believe 50 CFR 17.84(n)(4)(xi)(B) and (C) and (H) can be reasonably interpreted to allow this flexibility. Wolf removal under these circumstances would be conducted to avoid conflict with human activities, or to prevent wolves with abnormal behavioral characteristics (such as killing 20 or more sheep in a single incident) from passing on or teaching these traits to other wolves. This approach could benefit wolf recovery efforts by reducing the likelihood of future depredations from these packs, along with an expected reduction in both negative publicity and local animosity towards wolves in the affected areas.

Finally, with delisting of wolves hopefully near, and the IDFG poised to use sport harvest to control wolf numbers, many wolf advocacy groups have expressed concern about the State’s wolf population being drastically reduced in short order. However, a review of the last 5 years of data on wolf take by WS indicates that of 125 wolves taken, only 20 (16%) were taken by shooting from the ground using conventional hunting methods, as compared to 43 (~35%) taken by trapping. Furthermore, half of the wolves taken by WS were taken by aerial hunting (62, ~50%). WS employs highly skilled and trained field personnel, and these employees have access to telemetry equipment as well as databases that track the most up-to-date wolf sightings. Yet despite these advantages (advantages that sportsmen will not have), only a small fraction of the wolves taken by WS are taken using the conventional methods likely to be employed by sport hunters.

Hunting from the ground is not the most effective way to take wolves, and after the public is allowed to begin hunting wolves, it would seem likely that wolves will become even more difficult to hunt as they become more wary of humans. Winter harvest levels of 28-47% are sustainable in wolf populations (Mech 2001), but based on WS experience and information regarding wolf harvest in Alaska (where most wolves are taken by trapping and snaring, rather than hunting), we believe it is highly unlikely that hunting alone could be used to accomplish that level of removal in Idaho.

If a court grants a temporary injunction and stops, or delays, the delisting process, WS will almost certainly need to remove more wolves than ever before. Based on current trends, it is likely that WS will remove ~65 wolves in FY 2008. If wolves continue to expand into areas where more conflicts with livestock would be expected (as suggested by the information in Figure 6.), WS annual wolf removals in Idaho might conceivably exceed 100.

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