Bottom line – despite the return of wolf hunts to Idaho and Montana this year, wolf populations grew. Not by as much as in previous years, but by a respectable 3.2 percent in Idaho, Montana, Oregon and Washington, reports the Sightline Institute in its Cascadia Scorecard.
The hunts marked the first time in decades recreational hunters were allowed to shoot the wolves. Hunters killed 134 wolves in Idaho and 72 in Montana. There were 1,386 left standing in the four states at the end of 2009.
But hunting wasn’t quite as lethal to wolves last year as lack of habitat and policies that protect livestock. Wolves have pretty much saturated the best habitat in high-elevation public forests in Idaho and Montana. That means they're expanding their range and getting into more conflicts with the cattle, sheep, dogs, llamas and goats that inhabit more domesticated territory. In 2009, there wereby wolf packs in the three core recovery areas, a jump of more than 50 percent from 2008, an increase that was mainly due to a taste for sheep.
Another 240 wolves were killed by property owners and game officers for killing or stalking livestock in Montana, Idaho and Oregon.
“They get in trouble and we end up killing them," said US Fish and Wildlife Wolf Recovery Coordinator Ed Bangs. "The wolf population still grew last year, but they’ve filled up all the good habitat, so conflicts were a lot higher than normal and there was a lot more damage than usual. But the populations are still doing great.”
But lawsuits challenging the removal of the gray wolf from the endangered species list remain. Environmental groups challenging the restoration of wolf hutning fear it will continue until wolves are once again near exinction.