Annual Gray Wolf Report For Northern Rockies Shows Slight Decrease In Overall Population, Increase In Packs

Wolf numbers in the northern Rocky Mountain region encompassing Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, and parts of Washington and Oregon at the end of 2012 showed only a slight decrease from a year earlier, though the number of packs increased, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

As of Dec. 31, 2012, there were at least 321 confirmed packs and 1,674 wolves within the region, the agency said in its year-end report issued last week. The 2011 report showed at least 287 confirmed packs and 1,796 wolves within the region.

“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 Northern Rocky Mountains, 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, the agency said in a release.

Director 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, he said.

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 2012, 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 this site. The report is a cooperative effort by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Idaho Department of Fish and Game, Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks, Wyoming Fish and Game, the Nez Perce Tribe, National Park Service, Blackfeet Nation, Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, Wind River Tribes, Colville Tribe, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, Utah Department of Natural Resources, and USDA Wildlife Services.