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http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/localnews/2002843456_idahowolves04e.html

Idaho seeks OK to kill up to 43 wolves

The Associated Press

BOISE, Idaho Idaho will ask the federal government for authority to kill most of the wolves in a pack that is preying on dwindling numbers of elk in the state's Lolo Pass region.

Members of the Idaho Fish and Game Commission voted unanimously Friday to ask the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for permission to eliminate up to 43 of the estimated 58 wolves in the Lolo pack roaming the Clearwater River Basin in northern Idaho to try to help rebuild an elk herd in the popular hunting area.

Though the wolves reintroduced into the state in 1995 are protected under the Endangered Species Act, the federal agency last year modified a provision of the law to allow Idaho to kill wolves that are reducing big-game animal numbers below state wildlife-management goals.

Killing is allowed only if the agency agrees with the state's science in deciding that killing the wolves, rather than other means, would restore game populations to the desired level.

The commission directed the Department of Fish and Game staff to incorporate the latest estimates of the Lolo elk numbers along with comments from the public and peer reviewers into a document that outlines the scientific reasons why the state believes "immediate and appropriate" reductions of the wolf population in the area are necessary.

Commissioners said they were confident the state had the data and biological science to back up the need to kill most of the wolves in the pack.

A national wildlife conservation group said the decision to go ahead with the wolf kill was irresponsible and politically motivated.

"The scientific community at large is very critical of the state's proposal because it is clearly the loss of habitat, not predators, that is responsible for the decline in the elk population in the Lolo area," said Suzanne Stone of Defenders of Wildlife. "This decision reveals that the true intention of the state is not to manage wolves, but to eradicate them by any means possible."

The group staged an e-mail campaign that generated almost all of the 42,000 public comments received on the state's proposal.

Huge wildfires in the early 20th century left behind brushy vegetation in the Clearwater drainage where elk herds could flourish, giving hunters ample opportunity into the 1980s. But the number of elk in the region declined in the 1990s as the forests rebounded with trees, limiting the natural habitat for elk to browse.

State biologists contend the poor habitat is being compounded by predation by wolves, which were introduced into the drainage in 2000. The state says wolves have been responsible for 32 percent of elk deaths in the Lolo region since 2002.

Fish and Game Department Director Steve Huffaker said federal officials have told him that it could take several months for the Fish and Wildlife Service to review the state's application.

Originally, Idaho had hoped to get federal approval and begin killing wolves this winter, but Huffaker said that is unlikely.

"And we all know this is going to end up in court anyway," said Commissioner Gary Power.

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