LEWISTON, Idaho — More than a dozen wolves were killed last month to help curb struggling elk populations in north-central Idaho, wildlife officials said.
The Idaho Department of Fish and Game announced Monday it killed 17 wolves in the remote Lolo Zone, the Lewiston Tribune reported. The zone includes part of the Clearwater National Forests and stretches to the Montana state line.
The agency has carried out wolf culling operations in the region for eight of the last nine years, officials said.
"Restoring the Lolo elk population will require continued harvest of black bears, mountain lions and wolves along with wolf control actions," the agency said in a statement. "The overall objective is not to eliminate wolves but to maintain a smaller, but self-sustaining wolf population in the Lolo Zone to allow the elk population to recover."
Federally approved plans allow the agency to kill wolves and other predators when they are "causing conflicts with people, or domestic animals, or are a significant, measured factor in deer and elk population declines," the statement said.
The elk population in the Lolo Zone peaked with about 16,000 in 1989, but it was estimated at 2,000 in 2017 when the herd was last surveyed, agency officials said. Elk populations started to decline before wolves were reintroduced. The decline was blamed on habitat degradation and harsh winters, officials said.
The state began culling wolves in 2011 as a result of declining elk numbers, and it has killed about 14 wolves each year in the Lolo Zone. The agency had previously partnered with the U.S. Wildlife Services for wolf-control measures, but this year, it hired a private contractor that shot the wolves from helicopters.
Environmental groups have argued culling is unethical, unjustified and ineffective.