Idaho's first wolf-trapping season officially kicked off Nov. 15 throughout much of the state's panhandle. In response to dramatic elk declines, Idaho Fish and Game is hoping that the addition of trapping to this wolf hunt will help boost harvests this winter. If it doesn't go as planned, officials are prepared to extend trapping beyond the season's March 31 end-date.
Much of the area now open to wolf trapping in Idaho lies just over the Montana border. While Idaho big game manager Jon Rachael hopes trappers will place traps cautiously, he says his agency is "very concerned" about catching non-target species. Considering the size of leghold traps allowed—up to nine inches—that list of potential non-targets includes bears, mountain lions, elk, moose and wolverines.
"Nine inches is a very large trap," Rachael says. "Most of the traps are closer to the seven-and-a-half to eight inch range. I believe the ones our research folks use are just over seven inches."
For John Grove, a board member with Friends of the Bitterroot, the concern goes beyond wild non-targets. Many folks from Ravalli County recreate over the border in Idaho during the winter, he says. They frequently have dogs with them that might unwittingly run into leghold traps that could hold an elk.
"Hell, with a wolf trap, that's the end," Grove says. "Bust their legs and everything else. It seems to me that if there's one thing that's going to ensure that the initiative passes to outlaw all trapping on public lands, it's the push to trap wolves."
The last Montanans for Trap-Free Public Lands initiative fell over 1,000 signatures short of making the 2010 ballot.
Grove raises the same argument against wolf trapping that he does against wolf hunting: "There's no scientific evidence that wolves are even doing that much harm." But Rachael counters that the districts Idaho has focused its wolf-trapping season on have so few elk that hunters have nearly abandoned them.
Idaho Fish and Game has advised trappers to stick to remote backcountry areas and to call wildlife personnel should they catch a non-target animal. The reality, Rachael says, is that non-target captures can't be entirely avoided no matter how hard the state and each trapper tries.
"Trappers want to maintain a good image," he says. "They don't want to catch non-targets, they don't want to catch pets, they don't want people running into their traps."
Since last week, Rachael reports, one wolf has been successfully trapped in Idaho.