ENDANGERED SPECIES -- The 2010 annual report on the Northern Rockies gray wolf poplation released this week by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service seems to have given everyone some ammunition.
Overall the wolf population has remained roughly the same. However, while Montana and Wyoming report another year of increases, Idaho reports the first decline -- for reasons still not fully explained.
Conservation groups say the 2010 report proves that wolf numbers will naturally stabilize. Hunting and ranching groups say the numbers verify that wolves are still over-popoulated and taking too big a bite out of big-game herds, which have declined dramatically in some areas.
One number isn't often reported: Federal agencies once again spent about $4.6 million managing wolves in the Northern Rockies last year, and a similar amount is expected to be spent this year.
In 2009, when Montana and Idaho were allowed to hold controlled wolf hunting seasons, wolf populations continued to increase. But at least Idaho was able to collect $470,000 in wolf-tag fees that were applied to wildlife management. Montana took in $325,935.
Wolves will be better off if hunting is allowed in the mix of wolf management options, experts say. And hunters are willing to do the work and pay part of the bill.