Idaho Fish and Game has completed wolf control actions in northern Idaho's Lolo elk zone to improve elk survival in the area. Seven wolves were taken during the operation, which started in late February. The operation is consistent with Fish and Game's Elk Management Plan and Lolo Predation Management Plan.
The control operation was paid for using Fish and Game license dollars transferred to the Idaho Wolf Depredation Control Board, created by the Idaho Legislature in 2014.
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.
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 zone is steep, rugged country that is difficult to access, especially in winter. Since wolf control began in 2011, an average of 14 wolves were removed annually through control actions and an average of 21 wolves were taken annually by hunters and trappers. To date, hunters and trappers have reported 18 wolves taken in the Lolo zone during the 2018-19 season. The trapping season ends March 31 and the hunting season ends June 30.
The present day boundary of the Lolo elk Zone was established in 1992. That year, an estimated 10,120 elk inhabited the zone. Since then, this elk herd has decreased substantially because of declining vegetative quality, a catastrophic loss of elk during the 1996-1997 winter, and predation by mountain lions, black bears, and wolves. An estimated 1,893 elk were estimated in the Lolo Zone during the most recent survey in 2017.
The 1,137 cow elk and 425 bull elk estimated during 2017 were well below the long-term objectives for 6,100 to 9,100 cow elk and 1,300 to 1,900 bull elk. 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 bull hunting was reduced by half and all rifle cow hunts have been eliminated. Additional restrictions were placed on rifle and archery hunters in 2011.
Fish and Game stepped up predation management in the Lolo area through increased harvest opportunities of 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 when needed and meaningful large-scale habitat improvements.