In Idaho, the odds of bagging a moose may get longer

Eric Barker / Salt Lake Tribune /

Idaho moose hunting permits have always been a coveted draw with the longest of odds.

But it’s getting even more difficult to land one of the desirable tags. In response to declining moose numbers, the Idaho Department of Fish and Game is proposing to reduce the number of moose tags in many of the Clearwater Region’s hunting units.

If approved by the Idaho Fish and Game Commission, it will be a continuation of a trend that has seen the number of Clearwater Region moose permits plummet over the last decade.

In 2004, the department offered 262 moose permits in the region. If the agency’s proposal for the 2013-14 seasons is approved, only 98 hunters will draw tags.

“It’s been a fairly precipitous drop and it’s been fairly steady over the last 10 years or so,” said Dave Koehler, a wildlife biologist with the department at Lewiston.

The agency doesn’t have hard data on moose numbers. Instead it relies on the success of hunters and anecdotal field sightings to gauge the health of the moose herd. By those measures, moose are struggling, particularly in units south of the Lochsa River.

Koehler said the department prefers to have moose hunt success rates at or above 75 percent. After falling short of that goal, the department started cutting the number of tags offered in many of its hunt areas.

“You would expect — if things worked the way you want them to when you cut permits — you would see a jump in hunter success,” he said. “Hunter success has pretty much been stable over time and there have just been fewer permits.”

The decline isn’t confined to Idaho. Moose numbers have been falling across the West and in the upper Midwest. Wolves are an obvious culprit. But Koehler said while predators are part of the problem, they may not be the most important factor. Scientists say habitat changes, parasites and warmer temperatures related to climate changes are believed to be major drivers of the decline.

It’s not all bad news for moose and moose hunters in the region. The department is proposing to increase permits in Units 8 and 8A. Hunter success rates in the two units have been at or near 100 percent for more than a decade.

The department will hold an open house meeting from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Jan. 3 at the Clearwater regional office to take comments on its moose proposal. Those who attend will be able to visit with department personnel about the proposed changes and provide their written comments.

Those unable to attend the open house can comment at http://fishandgame.idaho.gov/, or by calling the Clearwater regional office at 208-799-5010. Comments can also be submitted via email to idfginfo@idfg.idaho.gov, or by mail to Moose, Goat, Sheep Comments, c/o Idaho Fish and Game, P.O. Box 25, Boise ID 83707. Comments are due by Jan. 14.

The proposed changes will be submitted to the Idaho Fish and Game Commission for consideration and action during its annual meeting Jan. 16-18 in Boise.