Idaho’s wolf population remained statistically flat during 2015, reflecting the species’ resilience despite efforts to reduce the number of packs and individuals roaming the state’s wildland.
According to a report published Friday by the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, the state had a minimum of 786 wolves and 108 packs at the end of last year. That compares to 785 wolves in 104 packs at the end of 2014.
The report documented 358 wolf deaths during 2015, of which 99 percent were human-caused. Lethal control amounted to 75 of the wolf deaths, including 54 that were killed for preying on livestock and 21 killed in the Lolo Zone to help struggling elk herds there. Hunters and trappers killed 256 wolves in 2015, the same number killed in 2014.
Biologists for the department took a more in-depth look at 53 of the state’s 108 documented packs to determine breeding success. According to the results, 33 of the 53 packs, or 62 percent, qualified as breeding pairs. A breeding pair is a pack with at least one adult male and one adult female that produced two or more pups that survived until the end of the year. At the end of 2014, the state documented 23 breeding pairs.
According to the Idaho Wolf Management Plan and criteria outlined by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service when wolves were delisted in 2011, the state must maintain a wolf population numbering at least 100 animals and 10 breeding pairs.
“We have been harvesting wolves for five years now and these numbers show wolves are very sustainable and their population overall, it’s a healthy population,” said Mike Keckler, a spokesman for the department.
Keckler said efforts to reduce wolf numbers in areas such as the Lolo Zone – where biologists say they are killing too many elk – will continue in the future. The report indicates the Lolo Zone had six packs at the end of the year. However, that was prior to a joint operation by the department and the U.S. Wildlife Services Agency in February, when 20 wolves were shot from helicopters.
Keckler noted that the number of livestock killed by wolves dropped again last year. The report indicates wolves were confirmed to have killed 35 cattle, 125 sheep, three dogs and one horse in 2015.
This could be the last year Idaho publishes an in-depth wolf population monitoring report. When wolves were removed from Endangered Species Act protections in 2011, the state was required to monitor wolf numbers for five years and report them to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Last month, five environmental groups said they planned to sue the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to force the state to continue wolf monitoring and report writing. The groups contend the state’s wolf population monitoring effort relies too much on statistical analysis rather than actual documentation of wolves on the ground.
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