Clearwater River area wolf killing plan withdrawn by State of Idaho

Although it hasn’t been officially announced, I understand the recent plan to reduce the wolf population by 80% for five years over a large portion of north central Idaho has been withdrawn. I regard this as one of the biggest victories in a long time.

Idaho Fish and Game Commission proposed it as a way of regenerating the large elk herds that have declined in the last 15 years in much of the upper Clearwater River drainages.

The plan was immediately met by massive negative public comments, both within and outside of Idaho.

It was probably obvious too, to the Fish and Game Commission, that the plan could not pass scientific muster. That is required until the wolf is completely delisted, although I think that science should play a much more important role in all aspects of wildlife management.

The sample size of wolf-killed elk was far too small to draw conclusions about the impact of wolf predation. There was no plan in place to monitor the elk population each year in project area as the plan was carried out. The rival hypothesis that the population decline of elk was due to habitat succession is well documented. It requires much evidence to shoot that hypothesis down. Idaho Fish and Game didn’t have it.

This will come up again when the wolf is delisted because the Commissioners are politicians of sorts, and they know that the appearance of doing something matters.

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Update Sept. 23. I was wrong believing that the Idaho Fish and Game Commission came to their senses and withdrew their scheme. Instead, the federal government rejected it, as this story from the AP by John Miller indicates.



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  1. Rich McCrea Avatar
    Rich McCrea

    This is good news that the Fish and Wildlife Service have rejected the wolf kill proposal on the Lochsa River, submitted by the Idaho Fish and Game Dept. (IDFG). This plan was riddled with holes and very imcomplete.

    Another untold story that has not come out concerns IDFG elk counts. I requested elk count data from IDFG for their Clearwater Region a few months back. The Game Units (GMU’s) where the wolf kills were to take place were GMU’s 10 and 12. The elk count data goes back to 1989 (GMU 10)and 1985 (GMU 12). For both GMU’s there is 23 years that full elk counts were NOT conducted. IDFG did conduct cursory cow elk/calf counts during some of those years but not a full elk population count. I was a bit shocked at how many years that elk counts were not done and I sent an email to IDFG asking why. They said they do not always do full elk counts because of lack of funds and sometimes it is because of weather/snow conditions that does not allow it.
    The last full elk count in GMU 12 was in 1997 and in GMU 10 was in 2003.

    Does IDFG really know how many elk there are in those game units? The science looks a wee bit shakey to me. If the Idaho Fish and Game Commission is committed to increasing elk numbers they need to put their money where there mouth is and obtain good elk census data.

  2. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    Thanks for the added information.

    Not only did they have poor quality data to start, they didn’t have a plan to gather enough data to see if the wolf reduction really made a difference.

    To do that they would need a good elk population count, and a breakdown by sex each year they reduced the wolf population.

    Without such monitoring, what could really be concluded from the elk count at the end of five years? Whatever one’s preconceptions led them to believe anyway.

    If the elk count was up, you could say the plan worked, but others could say it would have risen anyway. If the elk population declined further, some could say “it’s good they killed those wolves or things would be even worse.” Others could say “it’s clear killing the wolves did no good at all, and habitat constraints have made the elk situation even tighter.”

  3. Jill Gershen Avatar
    Jill Gershen

    Thank you to both Ralph and to Rich for these eye opening comments. I have a question. How are full elk counts performed? How does an agency truly know how many elk there are in a certain region?

    Thank you so much.


  4. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    They fly in the winter when the elk are most visible. Count accuracy depends on the weather and the methods of flying and counting.

    Idaho Fish and Game only makes a big effort to count every five years, and that is a real problem if you want to measure success of a five-year long predator reduction program. You need more than two data points to draw any conclusions.

    Everyone who participated in the Yellowstone northern range elk count last winter agrees that the count was a big undercount due to weather related problems.

    They are also radio collaring elk. As with grizzly bears, you can estimate a population from the proportion of radio collared elk seen compared to the total number of radio collars and the total number of elk with or without collars seen.


Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University. He was a Western Watersheds Project Board Member off and on for many years, and was also its President for several years. For a long time he produced Ralph Maughan’s Wolf Report. He was a founder of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. He and Jackie Johnson Maughan wrote three editions of “Hiking Idaho.” He also wrote “Beyond the Tetons” and “Backpacking Wyoming’s Teton and Washakie Wilderness.” He created and is the administrator of The Wildlife News.

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