The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Wildlife Services program has pursued a pair of wolves in the Boise Foothills for almost a month now after the wolves killed at least 11 sheep grazing Upper Hulls Gulch.
Wildlife Services is using a fixed-wing plane and ground shooters with wolf calls to locate and kill the wolves. The Idaho Department of Fish and Game authorized the action on May 5.
"Most of the time when we confirm livestock predation, most of the time, the Idaho Department of Fish and Game gives us authorization to use lethal means," said Wildlife Services Assistant State Director George Graves.
The attacks occurred in four separate depredation incidents, the most recent of which was on May 24, Graves said. Frank Shirts, who grazes on public land in the Boise Front, owns all of the lost sheep.
While Idaho Conservation League has supported delisting wolves and state management of the species, ICL Program Director Justin Hayes said that Wildlife Services has been "overzealous" in its wolf control efforts and that he is hearing lots of complaints about the agency.
"Using aerial gunning to kill wolves in sight of the state capitol is a crazy and very bad idea," Hayes said.
Since Jan. 1, Wildlife Services has killed 24 wolves in authorized control actions. That's an average of eight kills a month, the highest per month average since at least 2003, according to IDFG data. In 2008, Wildlife Services killed an average of 7.83 wolves a month, the second highest year.
There have been established wolf packs in the Boise Foothills for at least a decade, though sightings so close to town are rare. Graves said the wolves are thought to be about eight air miles north of the Statehouse. The first predation in May was a few miles up the well-used Eighth Street Extension, past the winter closure gate.
Graves said the service is not using leg traps or snares because of the number of people and dogs in the area.
Ed Mitchell, a spokesman for Fish and Game, said each depredation incident is dealt with on a case-by-case basis.
"One criteria is if there is a long history of chronic depredation in an area, or with a particular pack, then that calls for removal," Mitchell said.
Another criteria is keeping wolves out of areas that see a lot of human use, such as Hulls Gulch, he said.
"With the growth in [wolf] population that we've had statewide we've gotten perhaps a bit more aggressive," he said.