The breeding success of wolves in Idaho is surprising even their most optimistic supporters.
Seven female wolves have denned this spring, indicating they may have produced pups. Overall, 24 of 29 wolves have paired up into packs and are living in the central Idaho recovery area.
“I thought I’d be a great-grandmother before I’d see wolves come back in Idaho,” said Suzanne Laverty, education director of the Boise-based Wolf Education and Research Foundation.
And although Idaho’s wolves do not get the attention or funding of those in Yellowstone National Park, they are keeping pace.
In Yellowstone, eight packs have produced 11 litters this spring, exceeding the magic number of 10 breeding pairs needed to begin removing the predator from the endangered species list.
Wolves in northwestern Montana produced at least nine litters this spring. Ten pairs need to breed successfully for three years in Yellowstone, Idaho and Montana for the population to be considered recovered. No more wolves are going to be added.
Idaho wolves are managed by the Nez Perce Tribe under contract with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
The tribe monitors the radio-collared wolves’ movements regularly by airplane. Wolves are spread out from east of Warm Lake on the Boise National Forest, north to the Lolo National Forest and east to Lemhi Pass.
Thirty-five wolves were released in Idaho in 1995 and 1996 to jump start recovery.
Yellowstone biologists say the breeding success this spring may double the population there. But Nez Perce biologist Timm Kaminski said he needs to get on the ground to determine the actual breeding success of Idaho’s wolves.
Comparisons between the two management approaches are hard to make because there are so many variables, said David Mech, the Fish and Wildlife Service biologist from Minnesota who first suggested reintroducing wolves into the Rocky Mountains.
“The situations are so different,” he said. “You not only couldn’t do as much management in Idaho as you can in Yellowstone, but you don’t need to.”