Hired gun

Wolf management in Idaho recently took an odder turn than usual. Earlier this month, the Idaho Department of Fish and Game agreed to pay hunter Gus Thoreson an as-yet undisclosed sum to do what every other in-state resident needs an $11.50 permit to do: Kill wolves.

Thoreson's specific mission, according to media reports last week, will be to exterminate two wolf packs from the area around the Middle Fork of the Salmon River. Officials believe a decline in the elk population there could be attributed to low wolf harvest totals; the region is remote and difficult for hunters to access. Thoreson will be living in a U.S. Forest Service cabin while he conducts the contracted hunt.

Wildlife Bureau Chief Jeff Gould did not return calls or emails requesting comment last week. However, wildlife manager Ken McDonald with Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks assured the Indy that Idaho's decision to contract a private hunter is "not a route that we would look to here in Montana."

"It will create, in some people's minds, an expectation that if Idaho can do it, everybody should be able to do it," McDonald says. "But I'm not too worried about a precedent."

Idaho Fish and Game's annual wolf report for 2012 offered no size estimates for the six packs documented in the Middle Fork Wolf Management Zone, where Thoreson will be hunting. Nor were any of those packs listed as containing breeding pairs, which Fish and Game describes as "the measure of Federal and State wolf recovery and management goals."

The agency has been increasingly struggling in recent years to fund wolf management, thanks to a steady decline in sales of out-of-state deer and elk permits. In January 2013, the Idaho Fish and Game Commission approved a reallocation of $50,000 from the state's coyote control fund for eastern Idaho to wolf control measures in areas where elk populations are below management objectives.

In an interesting coincidence, the chapter of Idaho for Wildlife based in Salmon, where Thoreson lives, is hosting its first annual Coyote and Wolf Derby Dec. 28 and 29. The group is offering a $1,000 minimum prize for the largest wolf shot during the event. Nearly 15,000 people have signed an online petition at Change.org aimed at stopping the derby. Five environmental groups even went so far as to file a lawsuit against the Forest Service Monday alleging that the agency failed to require permits or an environmental impact analysis for the event, which is being held partly on public land.

Lynne Stone, director of the Idaho-based Boulder-White Clouds Council, said in a statement that "killing contests like this have no place in a civilized society and are an embarrassment to our state ... It's no wonder so many people view Idaho as like something out of Deliverance."

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