Gray wolf

Wolf attacks on livestock set a record last year in Idaho.

Wolves killed a record number of livestock in Idaho last year, the state Wildlife Services director says.

USDA Wildlife Services State Director Todd Grimm on Aug. 21 told the Idaho Wolf Depredation Control Board that his agency confirmed 175 wolf-caused depredations in the state for the fiscal year that ended June 30 — a record and up 25% from a year earlier.

The agency conducted 264 investigations prompted by wolf-related complaints in the most recent year and 217 a year earlier.

From July 1 to Aug. 21 this year, however, the agency recorded 29 confirmed depredations compared to 72 for the same period of 2018.

“That is a notable decrease, but it is still early,” Grimm said in an interview. “We were able to remove a bunch of wolves in these chronic depredation areas in late spring-early summer, and that stopped depredation activity for a period of time.”

A lack of reporting by affected ranchers also may be contributing to lower recent totals, “but there is no way of tracking that,” he said. “I have heard of some kills on sheep in the Wood River Valley, but we have not had significant reporting done” from there.

Weather and water-supply changes from year to year may contribute to differences in wolf-caused depredations of livestock, but those factors are also hard to track, Grimm said.

“Most of the time, the reason (depredation) numbers are high is that you’ve got a number of wolves in close proximity to a number of livestock,” he said. “Usually that doesn’t end up well for either party, but that is not always the case.”

Depredations typically are low in November and early December, and increase in May, June and July. Activity is highest in August, when wolf pups are old enough to run with adults.

The agency in fiscal 2019 removed 66 wolves, including 25 in May and June. The agency captured, radio-collared and released three during the year.

None was removed to protect wild ungulates. A year earlier, the agency removed 76 for livestock depredations and 10 to protect ungulates.

Talasi Brooks of Western Watersheds Project said the board has placed little emphasis on using non-lethal methods to control livestock depredation by wolves. Other wolf advocates said the board should be more proactive in managing wolf-livestock conflicts and preventing unnecessary losses of wolves.

Grimm said most wolf-livestock conflicts occur north of Interstate 84. Within this active zone, there has been a slight increase in the southwest.

Weiser-area ranchers Cody Chandler and his father, Kirk Chandler, a Washington County commissioner, said a wolf killed one of their cows early Aug. 20 in the Cuddy Mountain area. Wolves have killed or badly stressed livestock there, and with other wildlife are moving south toward Weiser, they said.

“It is affecting our way of life and our business,” Cody Chandler said of wolf pressure.

Braden Jensen of the Idaho Farm Bureau Federation urged more research into why wildlife are changing their movement patterns, which he said can increase crop depredation by big-game animals as well as wolf-livestock conflicts.

Idaho Department of Fish and Game and state Department of Agriculture directors co-chair the board. It is funded by IDFG, the livestock industry and the Legislature.

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