BOISE, Idaho — Twenty wolves have been killed in the Clearwater Region in northern Idaho to bolster elk populations in the area, the Idaho Department of Fish and Game says.
The agency in a statement Wednesday said the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Wildlife Services killed the wolves using a helicopter starting last week, and the wolf-control effort has ended.
"Predation impacts to elk calf and cow survival is the primary factor limiting recovery of the Lolo elk population," Fish and Game officials said in the statement.
The agency said elk numbers in the region in the last 25 years have fallen from 16,000 to fewer than 1,000. As a result, the agency has eliminated all rifle cow hunts and reduced by half rifle bull hunting.
The Defenders of Wildlife conservation organization revealed the aerial shooting of wolves last week and decried it as based on anti-wolf politics and not sound science.
Suzanne Stone of Defenders of Wildlife said Thursday that large fires in the early 1900s created good habitat for elk that has since grown in over the decades with fire-suppression efforts, causing elk numbers to fall. Killing wolves won't change that situation, she said.
"We feel that this action is misguided and is not going to result in any meaningful change on the ground as long as the habitat in the Lolo is not sufficient to support the elk herd objective set forth by the state," she said.
An Idaho board in charge of killing wolves declined on Monday to tell lawmakers how many wolves it had killed in 2016 or how much it cost. Officials said they didn't want to provide details while the wolf-control program was operating in northern Idaho.
Last year, 19 wolves were killed in the area and 23 were shot in 2014. The Lolo zone had a minimum of 38 wolves, including six documented packs and five other wolf groups at the end of 2014, according to the state's latest wolf population report.