BOISE, Idaho — The Idaho Fish and Game Department says the number of wolves in the state has reached its highest level since 2010, following a corresponding decline in wolves killed by hunters and trappers.
The department's data shows the state's wolf population grew by 13 percent last year. Roughly 770 wolves currently live in Idaho, according to the data released Friday — well above the minimum of 150 wolves that keeps the animal off the federal endangered species list.
Meanwhile, hunters and trappers killed roughly 250 wolves last year — down by almost 100 from the previous year.
Still, the number of wolves does not approach the statewide peak of 856 wolves in 2009, when Idaho began to allow hunters and trappers to kill a limited number of wolves.
Despite the growth in individual wolves, the new data shows that number of packs has dropped by roughly 20 in the last two years to 104 packs. Additionally, the number of sheep killed by wolves dropped to its lowest level in a decade — just over 100 sheep compared to more than 400 wolves last year.
Managing the wolf population has long been a topic of debate in Idaho.
Last year, lawmakers voted to form a Wolf Control Depredation Board to kill wolves that attack wildlife. The Legislature gave the board the same $400,000 in funding again for next year, although the board was slated to use only two-thirds of its funding this year.
In March, state officials announced they had killed 19 wolves in northern Idaho to help increase the elk population there. The number of elk had dropped from 16,000 to roughly 1,000 over the last 25 years.
The federal government reintroduced gray wolves to Idaho in the mid-1990s in an effort to restore their numbers and remove them from the endangered species list.