Outforia Quicktake: Key Takeaways
- Gray wolves are an abundant apex predator species in Idaho, thanks to successful conservation efforts after being on the endangered species list for 30 years.
- Idaho wolves are no longer protected by the Endangered Species Act and hunting and trapping regulations have been dropped in 2021, raising concerns for the wolf population.
- Gray wolves are considered a keystone species, playing a critical role in the ecosystem, and their absence would negatively impact the food chain.
- Idaho wolves’ diet consists of elk, deer, moose, beavers, ground squirrels, and snowshoe hares, and their presence helps maintain the balance of these populations.
- Wolf populations in Idaho have grown significantly since reintroduction in the 1990s, with an estimated 1,543 wolves in the state as of 2021.
Idaho has a long history with wolves. In the northern part of the United State, you can find gray wolves scattered about. Many of these gray wolf populations occupy the Northern Rocky Mountains. This includes Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming.
In 2021, a questionable wolf hunting and trapping bill was passed. This may especially affect Idaho wolves. To support the gray wolf population, conservation and wildlife management efforts were made.
Wolves in Idaho
Gray wolves (Canis lupus) are an apex predator in Idaho. These creatures live throughout most of the state, except for the southernmost region.
For about 30 years, gray wolves were on the endangered species list in Idaho. Thanks to conservation efforts, the wolf population has increased in the last decade. Now, Idaho wolves are considered to be an abundant species.
However, a bill passed in 2021 by Idaho lawmakers has raised concern for the wolf population. If you’d like to learn more about this, read on!
There are several subspecies of gray wolves that live across North American lands. The subspecies are generally classified by the regions they live in. Some examples of gray wolf subspecies include:
- Arctic wolf (Canis lupus arctos)
- Eastern timber wolf (Canis lupus lycaon)
- Mexican wolf (Canis lupus baileyi)
Other species are in the genus Canis. This includes the coyote, the domestic dog, and the red wolf.
History of Idaho Wolves
Gray wolves are a highly adaptable species. These creatures once had a vast range that spread across North America. But trapping and hunting have since restricted gray wolf populations in certain regions.
Back then, this species was going extinct in the lower 48 states. In fact, Idaho wolves were added to the endangered species list under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) in 1974. This kickstarted a plan to reintroduce gray wolves to the state.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) developed a recovery plan for wolf populations. This led to the reintroduction of wolves in Idaho in 1995 and 1996.
These wolves began having litters and soon after, the population increased. To protect the gray wolf population, strict hunting and trapping laws were enforced.
The Idaho Fish and Wildlife Service attempted to take over the daily work of the management plan in 2006. This wasn’t very successful and responsibilities were returned to the USFWS in 2010.
However, gray wolf populations significantly increased in 2011. It was enough to remove them from the endangered species list in the same year. Since then, the state has managed the wolf population.
Appearance and Size of Idaho Gray Wolves
In the canine family, gray wolves are the largest species. Idaho wolves weigh between 70 and 120 pounds (32-54 kg). Some male wolves may weigh even more, while females are generally smaller.
Coyotes also live in Idaho, but the two are easily distinguishable. Gray wolves are much larger. Most gray wolves reach lengths between 4.3-6.9 ft (1.3-2.1 m) in length from snout to tail tip.
As the name suggests, gray wolves tend to be light or dark gray with a lighter underside. They can also be white, black, or tan. Their colors help them blend in with their environment. This is especially helpful for hunting prey. They also have short, round ears and blocky snouts.
If you stumble upon gray wolf tracks, they will likely be 4.5-5 inches (11.4-12.7 cm) in length with claw imprints.
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Habitat and Range
Gray wolf populations used to be scattered throughout North America. Over time, excessive hunting and trapping have limited their range. Now, most gray wolves reside in Canada, Alaska, and the Northern Rocky Mountains.
Idaho wolf packs have been documented in a majority of the state. Gray wolves tend to not frequent southern Idaho. Most of them live in the central and northern portions of the state. Some packs can be found in the Island Park area to the southeast. Overall, populations generally remain north of Interstate 84.
These creatures tend to thrive in unexploited areas. They are highly adaptive and eat a wide variety of prey. This allows them to survive in various habitats. But they generally prefer the mountainous regions of the Rockies.
What Do Gray Wolves Eat in Idaho?
Gray wolves are excellent hunters. They’re at the top of the food chain, which gives them the title of an apex predator. These creatures will also scavenge for food if necessary.
A gray wolf’s diet in Idaho consists of other big game animals and smaller mammals. Their daily diet includes:
- Ground squirrels
- Snowshoe hares
Moose are a less common meal, but gray wolves hunting in a pack can take one down. Elk and deer are more common. They typically eat smaller prey when bigger game isn’t readily available.
One issue that Idaho residents face is wolves eating their livestock. With gray wolves in the area, Idaho residents may have trouble owning livestock.
Idaho wolf management plans take livestock predation into consideration. The Idaho Department of Fish and Game (IDFG) also considers the predation of elk and other ungulates.
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The Lifestyle of Idaho Wolves: Behaviors and Habits
Idaho wolves are very social and migratory creatures. They can become aggressive and territorial when other wolf packs enter their area.
Gray wolf hunting territories can be as small as 50 sq mi (129 sq km) or as large as 1,000 sq mi (2,590 sq km).
Wolves usually travel at a steady pace of about 5 mph (8 kph). When hunting or trying to escape, they may reach speeds up to 40 mph (64.3 kph).
Wolf packs may have up to eight wolves, but there are reports of groups with more than 30 wolves. A pack of wolves is usually a family with the dominant male and female as parents. The rest of the wolves are usually pups.
In the Northern Rocky Mountain region, breeding season is between January and March. It’s common for the dominant male and female of the pack to mate for life. Males may have more than one partner in their lifetime, but this is uncommon in their species.
Female wolves can give birth to 2-9 pups in one litter after a 63-day gestation period. These newborns pop up in the early spring, between late March and April. They’re born in dens, usually in a rock crevice, hollowed log, or dug in the ground.
Newborn pups can’t see or hear until they’re two weeks old. At around three weeks old, they’re able to leave the den. After two years, these pups mature enough to be able to breed.
Some wolves may leave the family pack early on. They remain as lone wolves until they find another pack or partner to mate with.
Wolves can communicate in several ways. They communicate with other wolves using visual, vocal, and olfactory cues. Howling, barking, and growling are the most noticeable forms of communication.
A wolf’s howl can travel as far as 7 miles (11.3 km). Their howls are often used as a cue to keep the pack together. Long howls that get higher in pitch signify that a wolf has been separated from its pack. If a wolf’s high-pitched howl is answered, it’ll switch to a deeper howl so it can be found.
Other forms of communication include posture and body language. Dominant wolves will often raise their heads and straighten their tails. Non-dominant wolves exhibit low-hanging tails and put themselves in more vulnerable positions.
Scent marking isn’t just for domestic dogs. Wolves scent mark by urinating and defecating as well. To establish their territory, they may scratch things to leave behind their scent.
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Wolf pups may begin their own life journey 12 months after birth. It’s common for gray wolf pups to stick with their parents until they are about two years old. Young wolves tend to leave the pack once they’re ready to mate with another wolf.
Female and male wolves generally have one litter of pups each year for about 5-7 years. Gray wolves living in the wild typically live up to eight years.
In captivity, wolves can live as long as 20 years. Idaho wolves that live in areas with high human activity have an increased risk of death. Disease, injury, and malnutrition are also common causes of early death.
Idaho Wolf Populations
Idaho wolf populations were dangerously low in the 1970s. But since its reintroduction to the region, the wolf population has increased significantly.
About 14 wolves were living in Idaho by the end of 1995. This population grew to 261 wolves by 2001.
Since 2019, the Idaho wolf population has remained stable. The IDFG estimates there to be about 1,543 wolves as of 2021. This number exceeds the minimum federal criteria of 150 wolves that Idaho must meet.
However, concerns about Idaho wolves still continue rising. For instance, a bill introduced in 2021 may jeopardize Idaho’s wolf population.
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Conservation Status and Wildlife Management
Since its delisting in 2011, Idaho wolves are no longer protected by the ESA. Wolves in the lower 48 states and Mexico are protected under the ESA by a February 2022 court order. However, the Northern Rocky Mountain region is not included in this court order.
The Idaho wolf management plan involves a few guidelines the state intends to meet. Some of the criteria to help with wolf management efforts include:
- Maintain a well-distributed and self-sustaining wolf population
- Ensure at least 15 wolf packs survive in the state
- Track population and distribution trends
- Oversee depredation of livestock and ungulate populations
- Control the wolf population with public hunting and trapping
With these guidelines, the wolf population has grown substantially in the last decade. State management and conservation have also been successful. In fact, the number of Idaho wolves has grown significantly. It is now 10 times more than the minimum population requirements.
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Idaho Wolf Hunting Regulations
Hunting of Idaho wolves was reinstated in 2009, and trapping was allowed in 2011. Wolves are classified as big game animals. Specific regulations were put in place after harvesting was authorized.
The hunting season for wolves varied depending on the area of the state. Some areas may have year-round seasons depending on wolf management factors. Most areas in Idaho had wolf hunting season between August and March.
Trapping season took place between mid-November and the end of March. The most wolves a hunter could take were five while trappers were allowed to take 10. However, IDFG reported that most hunters only took one wolf per year.
Idaho lawmakers passed Senate Bill 1211, which took effect in July 2021. It is also called the Wolf Management bill. This bill revised previous Idaho wolf management guidelines and regulations. It also limited the power of the IDFG, which opposed the bill.
This bill received much backlash due to putting Idaho’s healthy wolf population at risk.
Additionally, the regulations for hunting and trapping season have been dropped. If they have a tag for it, hunters and trappers can take an unlimited number of wolves.
Importance of Idaho Wolves to the Ecosystem
Gray wolves are considered a keystone species. This means they play a critical role in their ecosystem. If the wolf population was wiped out, it would upset the food chain and alter the ecosystem.
The closest animal in the food chain to the Idaho gray wolf would be the coyote. If wolf populations disappeared, coyote populations would increase. This would begin the disruption of the food chain.
Smaller game with a similar diet to coyotes would struggle to compete for food. Bigger game populations, such as elk, would get out of hand. This would negatively affect the vegetation in areas with high elk populations.
How can you stop Idaho from killing wolves?
There are many groups and environmental organizations against the 2021 Wolf Management bill. If you’re interested in preserving the Idaho wolf population, you can take action in a few ways.
Staying up to date on the latest wildlife management news in Idaho is a good start. This might allow you to advocate for wolf management and conservation.
Contacting state senators to discuss your point of view on the matter may also be effective.
Are wolves a problem in Idaho?
Wolves are an essential part of Idaho’s ecosystems. Wolves are generally seen as a problem among farmers and livestock owners. This is due to livestock attacks by wolves. Despite this, a healthy wolf population is important to help regulate the ecosystems.
What state has the most wolves?
Alaska has the highest wolf population. Gray wolves are most abundant in this state, ranging between 8,000 and 11,000 individuals.
What are wolves eaten by?
Since wolves are top predators themselves, they don’t have too many predators. Possible predators are grizzly and polar bears, Siberian tigers, and scavengers.
Do wolves eat grizzly bears?
Wolves may gang up on a grizzly bear to take it down. Bears and wolves may encounter each other when they are both in an area with food.
Grizzlies are huge bears. Even if one were outnumbered, it’s possible for a grizzly to take down or scare off wolves.
It is more likely that wolves would scavenge a grizzly bear carcass rather than hunt it down for a meal.