This summer, hunters in Idaho have snapped up nearly 11,000 tags that confer permission to hunt the 850 or so gray wolves that now live in the state thanks to a reintroduction program in the region started in 1995. Idaho—whose governor "Butch" Otter once vowed to be first in line for the permits—will allow 220 wolves to be killed for the bargain basement price of just $11.75; neighboring Montana will permit 75 starting September 15.

Gray wolves (Canis lupus), a close relative of domestic dogs, were nearly hunted to extinction in the western U.S. in the early 20th century, though they continued to thrive in Alaska. But the reintroduction scheme, started in Yellowstone National Park, has seen wolves fan out across the mountain Northwest.

All told there are now some 1,650 gray wolves living in 110,000 square miles of the northwestern Rockies—up from zero just 14 years ago—and they've become targets again thanks to this population rise and their predilection for livestock. A federal judge had postponed previous years' hunts but is still considering whether the wolves need to be returned to the Endangered Species List. According to the Billings Gazette, U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy speculates that a wolf hunt might provide wildlife managers with a better sense of the actual wolf population. So the hunt is on—and will last, barring judicial intervention, until the end of March next year.

Already the season's first wolf—a two-year-old female—has been killed near the Lochsa River by a 34-year-old real estate agent, according to the Associated Press. Whether such hunting helps manage the population—or eliminate it again—remains to be seen.

Image: Courtesy of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service