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By Jeannette Boner
DRIGGS — The Idaho Department of Fish and Game wants to increase the public’s ability to trap gray wolves in the Upper Snake Region, specifically with snares on private and public land.
The Fish and Game proposal would also open trapping up year-round. The proposal cites the need to better control wolf depredations in the area that stretches from north of Idaho Highway 33 in Teton Valley through Island Park and into the upper northern reaches of the Idaho/Montana border. Much of the proposal was pitched by two pro-trapping organizations, the Idaho Trappers Association and the Foundation for Wildlife Management.
“We need more tools to manage wolves in Idaho,” said Rusty Kramer, the president of the Idaho Trappers Association and board member for the Foundation for Wildlife Management. “Those tools are year-round trapping and trapping on private ground where depredation is occurring. People can then protect their own property. There is so much rugged Idaho, I don’t feel like we’ll ever get a handle on the wolf population. Idaho will be a breeding ground forever, and the wolf will never be endangered.”
But Derek Goldman with the Endangered Species Coalition believes these proposals go beyond addressing wolf depredation.
“This proposal is not driven by ag producers, but these sportsman groups,” Goldman said. “This idea of the big bad wolf is a deep-seated cultural animosity toward this animal. This is about trappers wanting to kill more wolves.”
If the snaring portions of the proposal move forward, there will be more public snaring opportunities over a wide geographic area, including public and private lands north of Teton Valley into the Island Park and Henrys Lake areas and onto public lands that border Yellowstone National Park. The snares would be allowed from Nov. 15 through March 31. The proposals also increase the use of foot-hold traps from April 1 to Nov. 14 on private lands in the same area and opens up foot-hold trapping year-round in the Mud Lake area, zones 63 and 63A.
The different types of traps used are important in understanding this issue. Curtis Hendricks, a Fish and Game wildlife biologist said that in the winter, snare traps, which sit on top of the snow, are used more than foot-hold traps. But snares are also more controversial because they are lethal traps, where a foot-hold trap just holds an animal in place.
He also said there is a need for more wolf trapping because, during four of the last five years, Fish and Game have received reports of high levels of livestock killed by wolves in the Upper Snake Region.
“There is consideration to denning and birthing,” said Hendricks of the year-round trapping that would impact pups and nursing wolves. “The department does recognize the optics of (trapping during the birthing season). We are willing to see how it goes.”
According to the Fish and Game’s second annual wolf population inventory, the population was stable from 2019 to 2020. The 2020 estimate peaked with 1,556 wolves in Idaho, 10 fewer than the 2019 estimate of 1,566. Idaho is required to maintain at least 150 wolves. Last year 583 wolves were killed through hunting and trapping. That was a 53 percent increase over 2019.
Goldman doesn’t believe trapping actually helps alleviate the burdens on ranchers who also contend with other predators killing livestock. He also has concerns about how indiscriminate snares are.
“Trapping is indiscriminate,” Goldman said. “It kills anything that steps on the trap. It will catch non-target species of wildlife, including endangered animals and dogs. Some people will argue that it’s not a fair chase. With all that public land in that region, there really is potential to endanger the Yellowstone wolves,” he said adding that increased trapping also elevates the likelihood of recreational users coming in contact with a snare. “It becomes a public safety issue as well.”
Kramer recognizes there is some danger to people recreating, but it’s small, he said, adding that trapping is a legal way to control wolf populations and protect livestock.
Hendricks said the emotional arguments around wolves may never change.
“If nobody’s happy, we’re doing it right,” he said.
According to a press release issued Feb. 1, Fish and Game will be setting new seasons for upcoming deer, elk, pronghorn, black bear, mountain lion, and wolf hunts in March. Hunters can now see proposed seasons and changes and provide comments. The comment period deadline is Feb. 25. The easiest way for hunters to review proposals and weigh-in will be by visiting the big game proposals webpage at https://idfg.idaho.gov/big-game. The proposals are posted by region and separated by species within each region.