LEWISTON, Idaho – The hunters behind the little-known Foundation For Wildlife Management know three things about trapping wolves.
First, it is a much more effective wolf-management tool than hunting.
Wolf hunters have a success rate of less than 1 percent, while trappers enjoy a success rate near 25 percent.
Second, wolf trapping is time consuming and expensive. Traps need to be checked at least once every three days, and that can involve driving hundreds of miles.
“It costs me $48 a day on an average day, and I have to go every 72 hours,” said Jack Hammack of Sandpoint, a founding member of the group that is based in the Idaho Panhandle. “It’s typically between a 10- and a 13-hour day.”
It takes so much time and money to be a serious wolf trapper that group members feared many hunters, even those like themselves who desperately want to see wolf populations thinned, would either not take up trapping or not stick with it. So they formed the foundation, a sort of wolf-trapping cooperative that essentially pays regular-joe trappers to kill wolves.
People can join the group for $35. Those who join and then successfully trap a wolf, can submit their expenses and be reimbursed up to $500 per wolf.
Hammack said it has increased the number of active trappers in the Panhandle, and the idea is ripe for export to other areas of the state and perhaps even to Montana.
That leads to the third thing they know about wolf trapping and wolves in general – it is an extremely controversial and emotional issue.
“We haven’t had a whole lot of publicity to this point. We have avoided it and been able to be successful without it,” Hammack said. “It’s so easy to get unwanted publicity. All we are trying to do is help the department reach its objectives.”
They saw what happened in Salmon recently when the group Idaho For Wildlife held a wolf and coyote hunting derby. Environmental groups filed a lawsuit in an unsuccessful attempt to stop the derby, which eventually resulted in 21 dead coyotes and no dead wolves.
They no doubt recall the uproar two years ago when a trapper near Elk City paused and posed for a photograph in front of a trapped wolf before dispatching the animal. They are aware an Idaho Fish and Game program that is paying a trapper to kill wolves in the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness Area has drawn attention from environmental groups.
They also know some will label their program a bounty.
But as they look to expand their reach, they know publicity is coming and probably necessary. The group will hold a meeting at 7 p.m. Jan. 23 at the department’s Clearwater regional headquarters in Lewiston. The group is also scheduled to give a report Jan. 16 at the Idaho Fish and Game Commission meeting in Boise.
They insist they are just trying to help state wildlife officials manage wolves. Fish and Game wants to reduce wolf numbers in several units throughout the state where elk herds are suffering from a variety of ills, including predation from wolves, black bears and mountain lions.
“Nowhere does Fish and Game intend to eliminate wolves from the landscape, but we do believe we can reduce wolf populations and see a response that will be positive for elk and sportsmen and can be positive for wolf populations too,” said Jim Unsworth, deputy director of the department at Boise.
The department has hired trappers in other regions including the Panhandle and Clearwater, and in 2012 it used helicopters to shoot 14 wolves in the Lolo Zone. But this appears to be the first time a grassroots group has formed to incentivize wolf harvest.
Fish and Game officials have worked loosely with the group.
“We have said if you are going to incentivize folks, here are some areas we think we have predation challenges, and we do have some units in the Panhandle that are being affected by predators,” said Chip Corsi, supervisor of the Panhandle Region. “I think they are genuinely interested in trying to help the state manage wolves to a level where elk objectives can be met.”
There are no legal problems with the group’s approach.
“The state doesn’t have any rules that say you can’t do that,” Corsi said. “It is not license dollars, it’s not tax dollars. It’s private dollars, and it’s not an exchange, it’s not a sale of wildlife.“
Last year, the group wrote 22 checks for $500 each to members who had killed wolves during the trapping season. It was founded by dedicated elk hunters who were concerned about wolves and were hopeful trapping could help. But Hammack said when he visited with experienced trappers they outlined the time and expense involved in trapping and predicted few would stick with it. He shared that with some friends, and one of them suggested they form a group to help defray costs.
“It just evolved from there.”
Among the foundation’s board members is Tony McDermott of Sagle, a former Idaho Fish and Game commissioner who helped set the department’s policy of reducing wolf numbers. He and one of his hunting partners, Ron Willouby of Moscow, are interested in attracting members from the Clearwater Region. Both men hunt elk in the Lolo Zone but stopped four years ago because the hunting was so poor. They returned this year and said the problem has gotten worse.
“I think for $35 a year I can afford to pay a trapper to go and trap wolves for my benefit,” McDermott said. “It’s an expense fee. It’s an enticement to get hunters and trappers out there, and it’s working.”
“They have 300 members in region one. If we can match that in region two, it can only help our elk herds,” Willouby said.