The reintroduction of gray wolves to the northern Rockies has been officially declared a success. They were removed from the federal Endangered Species list on March 28, transferring most wolf management authority from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to the states of Idaho, Montana and Wyoming.
All three states have developed management plans that include hunting to control wolf populations, which totaled more than 1,500 in 192 packs in the three-state area at the end of 2007. At least 107 of those packs included breeding pairs.
Wyoming was the first to open wolves to hunting and three or four reportedly were killed last weekend in Wyoming’s “predator zone,” where the wolves can be shot on sight.
Wolves in national parks will remain under the management authority of the National Park Service with no hunting allowed. Most wolf hunting will be on a quota basis, according to plans approved by the states.
The wolf’s population has rebounded dramatically since the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reintroduced 66 Canadian wolves to the three-state region in 1995 and 1996.
Even when they were listed as endangered, wolves that homed in on livestock were killed by government agents. However, livestock predation is increasing, officials say, and the number of wolves killed is likely to increase this year under state management.
Researchers have documented that the wolves are subsisting mainly on big-game animals. Idaho Fish and Game Department aerial surveys indicate that while wolf re-introduction has changed elk behavior, the state’s overall elk population has remained strong during recent years of mild winters.
Officials warn that the harsh winter of 2007-2008 has reduced big-game numbers.
The impact of wolves on livestock is easier to document. Livestock losses in the three states during 2007 included 183 cattle, 213 sheep, 13 dogs, 12 goats and 2 llamas.
About 24 percent of the wolf packs in the three states —60 out of 192— were involved in confirmed livestock kills. In response, 186 wolves were killed by agents within the three-state area (about 11 percent of the 2007 wolf population).
No wolves were relocated in 2007.
The Endangered Species Act requires monitoring and includes safeguards to ensure the viability of the recovered wolf population. Nevertheless, environmental groups already have vowed to file lawsuits to restrict the states’ authority to kill wolves.
Current status: Wolves currently are in their birthing season. However, as they headed into their post-recovery era as de-listed species, here’s the status of gray wolves compiled by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in reports for 2007:
Minimum population: 732 wolves in 83 packs in Idaho, plus 13 documented border packs counted in Montana and Wyoming.
•Breeding packs total 59.
•17 previously unknown packs were documented.
•258 livestock and 14 dogs were listed as killed by wolves.
•Deaths of 78 wolves were confirmed, 50 of which were livestock related.
Minimum population: 422 wolves in 73 packs, plus four documented border packs counted in Idaho.
•Breeding packs total 39, a 34 percent increase from 2006. The majority of the increase was in the far western region of the state.
•A net gain of about 12 packs was documented after disease and wolf-on-wolf conflicts led to the demise of 6-8 packs.
•115 livestock and three dogs were listed as killed by wolves.
• Deaths of 102 wolves were confirmed, 73 of which were livestock related.
Minimum population: 359 wolves in 36 packs. Total number of wolves increased 15 percent from 2006.
•Breeding packs total 24, down from 25 in 2006.
•No new packs formed and persisted in 2007, a first since reintroduction.
•Most of the Wyoming’s wolf recovery has occurred in the Yellowstone Park area in the northwest corner of the state, where wolves increased 26 percent last year. Wolf numbers in WY outside the park increased 7 percent last year to 188.
•91 livestock and 3 dogs were listed as killed by wolves.
•Deaths of 63 wolves — about 24 percent of the Wyoming wolf population outside Yellowstone Park — were livestock related. Inside the park, about 67 percent of the known mortalities were from wolf-on-wolf clashes as the packs self-regulate.
The March 28 removal of the gray wolf from federal “endangered” status included wolves found in the eastern two-thirds of Washington. However, the state of Washington still lists the wolf as endangered.
Therefore, it’s still illegal for the public to kill, harm or harass wolves in Washington, said Madonna Luers, department spokeswoman in Spokane. “Penalties range up to Class C felonies,” she said.
Wolves preying on livestock still must be reported to the Washington Fish and Wildlife Department and handled by state or federal officials.
Meantime, a panel of 18 citizens from across the state is in the last stage of preparing a plan for managing wolves naturally moving into the state. Public meetings on the panel’s recommendations will be scheduled in the fall and put into effect in 2009, Luers said.
Wolves have been documented in Washington, primarily in the northeastern corner. However, no breeding packs have been documented. No reintroductions have occurred in the state and none is planned.
Historically, wolves were found throughout most of the state. A calf in Stevens County last year was the first documented livestock killed by wolves in Washington State since the predators were extirpated from the state through bounty-hunting, poisoning and trapping in the 1930s.
Before last week, gray wolves had been listed as endangered in the lower 48 states, except in Minnesota, where they were listed as threatened. The wolf population in the Midwest was de-listed in early 2007.
Wolves are spreading naturally from Canada as well as from the reintroduced populations in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming.
A lone radio-collared wolf from Idaho was confirmed to have dispersed into northeastern Oregon last year.
A program in the Southwest is the nation’s only remaining federal gray wolf reintroduction effort.