HAMILTON — In the first year that wolf trapping was allowed in Idaho, trappers captured a total of 123 wolves.
But according to a survey by the Idaho Fish and Wildlife Department, those same trappers in 2011-2012 also inadvertently captured 147 other animals, including white-tailed deer, elk, moose, mountain lions, skunks and ravens.
Trappers reported that 69 of those animals died as a result.
Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks wildlife management chief George Pauley said his office is currently gathering similar information about the state’s first wolf trapping season.
He doesn’t expect the numbers of non-targeted species to be anywhere near that high in Montana.
The difference may center on the use of snares.
Idaho allows trappers to use wire snares that collapse around an animal’s neck as it struggles to free itself.
Montana officials have considered snares for wolf trapping, but so far have opted not to allow the use of that method, Pauley said.
Jon Rachael, Idaho Department of Fish and Game’s state wildlife game manager, said the survey sent to his state’s trappers didn’t require them to identify if the non-targeted animal was captured by a foothold trap or a snare.
“My guess is those animals caught in snares are typically the ones that end up dead,” Rachael said. “White-tailed deer will kill themselves. They’re high strung and they’ll struggle.”
Rachael said all wolf trappers in Idaho are required to complete a one-day course that offers ideas on how to avoid capturing non-targeted animals.
A similar course was taught this year in Montana.
The course included directions on how to set wires in front of snares that would divert elk and moose as well as instructions on building break-away devices and other methods.
White-tailed deer seemed to be the main challenge facing Idaho’s wolf trappers.
Trappers reported capturing 45 deer. Twelve of those died. They also captured 18 elk and four moose. One of the elk died.
The same number of coyotes ended up in traps as deer. Trappers reported that 38 were killed. Mountain lions also took a hit. Nine were captured and six died.
“It’s been a challenge,” Rachael said. “Trappers are talking with each other about ways to mitigate that. No one wants to catch a deer. It costs them a lot of time. They don’t want to kill deer, moose or elk.”
Montana trappers are required to report the capture of any non-targeted species as well, Pauley said.
So far this season, 45 dogs have been captured in traps. Only three of those were caught by wolf trappers, he said.
“There are a heck of a lot of people out there trapping furbearers,” Pauley said. “And there also are a lot of people trapping coyotes, which aren’t even regulated.”
The FWP office in Helena is currently collecting information from around the state about non-targeted animals caught in wolf traps.
“I’m aware of a couple of mountain lions, but right now that’s all I know about,” Pauley said. “We’re probably not going to have elk or moose. They are big enough to pull out of a wolf trap. There probably will be a small handful of deer that were caught.”
Pauley expects to have those numbers summarized in the next two or three weeks.
Montana’s wolf season ended last week. As of Friday afternoon, hunters had killed 128 wolves and trappers caught another 97.
The wolf harvest was up about 25 from the previous year – before trapping was allowed in the state.
In Idaho, Rachael said the wolf harvest was down about 25 percent.
“There are probably multiple factors that have caused the decline,” Rachael said. “There are less wolves and certainly less naïve wolves. After a couple of years of being hunted, wolves clearly exhibit avoidance behavior when it comes to people.”
While there’s always a new crop of young ones that are more vulnerable, Rachael said they tend to learn quickly.
“The naïve ones get picked off early,” he said.