Control actions are intended to boost elk herds, and have taken place in eight of the last nine years. Idaho Fish and Game has concluded wolf control actions done during February that removed 17 wolves in the Lolo elk zone north of Highway 12. Similar control actions have taken place in eight of the last nine years to reduce predation and improve elk survival in this herd that is well below elk management objectives.
The operation was conducted under the guidance of Fish and Game’s Elk Management Plan and Lolo Predation Management Plan. Fish and Game authorizes control actions where wolves are causing conflicts with people or domestic animals, or are a significant, measured factor in deer and elk population declines. Such control actions are consistent with Idaho’s 2002 Wolf Conservation and Management Plan approved by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Idaho Legislature.
The recent control operation was paid for with funding generated from Fish and Game license and tag sales and transferred to the Idaho Wolf Depredation Control Board.
Fish and Game prefers to manage wolf populations using hunters and trappers, and only authorizes control actions where regulated harvest has been insufficient to meet management goals. The Lolo elk zone is steep, rugged country that is difficult to access, especially in winter.
Since wolf control in the Lolo elk zone began in 2011, an average of 14 wolves have been removed annually through control actions, and an average of 21 wolves have been taken annually by hunters and trappers. In 2019, hunters and trappers reported 24 wolves taken in the Lolo zone. The current trapping season ends March 31 and the hunting season runs through June 30.
The Lolo elk population declined drastically from its peak of about 16,000 elk 25 years ago to fewer than 1,000 elk in recent years. Fish and Game biologists estimated 2,000 elk in the zone when it was last surveyed in 2017. Short-term goals for the Lolo elk population outlined in the 2014 Elk Management Plan include stabilizing the population and helping it grow.
Fish and Game has worked with the U.S. Forest Service for over 40 years to improve habitat for elk in the Lolo zone and will continue to do so. Hunting in the zone has been extremely restricted since the late 1990s. Rifle hunting for bull elk was reduced by half and all cow hunts have been eliminated.
Fish and Game has also incrementally increased opportunities for hunters to harvest black bears and mountain lions. Restoring the Lolo elk population will require continued harvest of black bears, mountain lions, and wolves along with wolf control actions. The overall objective is not to eliminate wolves, but to maintain a smaller, but self-sustaining, wolf population in the Lolo zone to allow the elk population to recover.