Wolf population objectives were set in the 2002 Idaho Wolf Management Plan, written by the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, and approved by the Idaho Legislature. The plan calls for exceeding a population of at least 150 wolves to ensure that they don’t fall back on the Endangered Species list.
Idaho has a minimum estimated population of 800-1,000 wolves at the present time, according to IDFG officials, and most of the habitat is occupied in Idaho’s mountains, from Interstate 84 to Canada.
To save money, Idaho Fish and Game has been transitioning to a system of estimating wolf populations via remote cameras in documented wolf territories. Previously, they used radio collars and DNA evidence from harvested wolves to track wolf populations in order to provide more detailed estimates.
“What we’re looking at is how much area is occupied by wolves, and how that changes over time,” says Jim Hayden, lead wolf biologist for IDFG. “So what we have is a grid system set up across the state. Each grid is roughly the size of a wolf territory.”
About 220 remote cameras gather photo data through the summer months, and then IDFG staff analyzes the photo data, plus DNA data collected from wolf harvest, to determine wolf populations.
“This stuff is all put together, run through the models and it gives us a real good handle on the area occupied by wolves in the state of Idaho,” says Jim Hayden, IDFG lead wolf biologist.
“We’re moving to different population estimators,” says Virgil Moore, former director of IDFG. “One of the criticisms out there — we don’t how many wolves are out there — that’s true. We don’t. But we’re trying to new methods that don’t cost the sportsmen and the people of Idaho as much money.”