Outdoors

Wolf status summed up for Idaho, Mont., Wyo.

Western gray wolf photographed in Montana. (Tracy Brooks / U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)
Western gray wolf photographed in Montana. (Tracy Brooks / U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

PREDATORS — U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologists weighed in today, confirming that the Northern Rockies gray wolf population has remained sustainable two years after wolves lost their endangered species protections in most of the region.

The latest wolf status updates on 2012 wolf monitoring in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming found that aggressive hunting, and some trapping, in the three states lowered the overall number of wolves for the first time in years. 

Overall, biologists tallied a minimum of 1,674 wolves across the five states at the end of 2012, a 6 percent decline.

However, the wolf population that burgeoned under protections for more than a decade are still FIVE TIMES higher than the federal government’s original recovery goal, set in the 1990s, of at least 300 wolves in the region.

That goal was achieved in 2002, but lawsuits stalled wolf management for years and the population soared.

Read on for a summary of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 2012 Northern Rockies wolf status report.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, State Agencies

Release 2012 Annual Report for Northern Rocky Mountain Wolf Population

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, in collaboration with other federal, state and tribal agencies, released the 2012 Annual Report for the Northern Rocky Mountain (NRM) Gray Wolf Population. The repor is conducted as part of the Service’s work to monitor the wolf population to ensure that it continues to thrive under professional state management and no longer needs federal protection under the Endangered Species Act.

As of Dec. 31, 2012, there were at least 321 confirmed packs and 1,674 wolves within the NRM area. The 2011 report showed at least 287 confirmed packs and 1,796 wolves within the NRM area. Post-delisting monitoring requires each delisted state to submit an annual report to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

“The recovery of the gray wolf in the Northern Rockies continues to be one of the great success stories of the Endangered Species Act, and we are intensely monitoring wolf populations to ensure they remain healthy and robust under state management,” said Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe. “We believe that professional wildlife management and the strong wildlife corridors we’ve established will ensure that the gray wolf remains a part of the landscape in the West for future generations of Americans.”

In comparison to the 2011 study of the NRM, the report shows a nearly 12 percent increase in the number of wolf packs. The report also shows a nearly 7 percent decrease in the overall population, which is in line with the Service’s expectation for the year. The number of breeding pairs also decreased by 5 percent, from 109 pairs in 2011 to 103 pairs in 2012. Overall, the wolf population remains well above the recovery levels identified by Service and partner biologists in the recovery plan.

Ashe noted that the Service fully anticipated state management would result in reduced populations, given the management goals established in each state’s wolf plan. Despite increased levels of take resulting from sport hunting and control efforts, the population has continued to thrive.

The original recovery plan had goals of an equitably distributed wolf population containing at least 300 wolves and 30 breeding pairs in three recovery areas within Montana, Idaho and Wyoming for at least three consecutive years. These totals were reached in 2002.

In 2012 the entire NRM Distinct Population Segment was delisted and wolves are managed under state authority in Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, eastern one-third of Washington and Oregon, and a small part of north central Utah.

Wolf packs, especially breeding pairs, remain within the three core recovery areas in northwestern Montana/Idaho Panhandle, central Idaho, and the Greater Yellowstone Area, and again were confirmed in eastern Washington and Oregon. No packs were documented in Utah.

“Hundreds of people have assisted with wolf recovery efforts over the years and we are indebted to them all,” said Noreen Walsh, Regional Director for the Service’s Mountain-Prairie Region. “This report supports the effective and appropriate management approach taken by the states, demonstrating that the implementation of their management plans continues to maintain a healthy wolf population at or above established recovery goals.”

Although confirmed depredations are a comparatively small proportion of all livestock losses in the NRM Distinct Population Segment, wolf damage can be significant in some livestock producing areas where wolves are present.  In 2012, 231 “problem” wolves were lethally removed by agency control, which includes legal take in defense of property by private citizens.

During the year, Montana removed 108 wolves by agency control and harvested 175 wolves in their hunting season; Idaho removed 73 wolves by agency control and harvested 329  wolves by public hunting; and in Wyoming, 43 wolves were removed by agency control and 66 harvested through regulated hunting. Washington removed seven wolves. In Oregon, no wolves were removed by agency control.  No wolves were harvested in Washington or Oregon.

“Hunters have played a key role for decades in helping to manage and sustain dozens of game populations in North America, and they can do the same for wolves,” said Mike Jimenez, the Service’s Recovery Coordinator for the NRM population. “Hunting remains an accepted and successful wildlife management tool that helps to reduce conflicts with humans, maintain stable populations and generate public support. We’re encouraged by the results of the trophy game hunts in each state.”

Total confirmed depredations by wolves in 2012 included 194 cattle, 470 sheep, six dogs, three horses, and one llama. From 2007 through 2011, an average of 191 cattle depredations occurred each year. An average of 339 sheep depredations occurred each year during this period. Ninety-nine of 352 (approximately 28 percent) known NRM Distinct Population Segment wolf packs that existed at some point in 2012 were involved in at least one confirmed cattle or sheep depredation.

The Service will continue to monitor the delisted wolf populations in the NRM states for a minimum of five years to ensure that they continue to sustain their recovery.  Although not expected to be necessary, as with all recovered and delisted species, the Service may consider relisting, and even emergency relisting, if the available data ever demonstrates such an action is necessary.

The report is posted online at http://westerngraywolf.fws.gov.




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Rich Landers

Rich Landers’ Outdoors blog


Rich Landers writes and photographs stories for a wide range of outdoors coverage, including a Sunday feature section and a Thursday column. He also writes the Outdoors Blog.


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