by Tribune Staff
Montana’s verified wolf population declined by 73, or 12 percent, last year while livestock depredations by wolves continued to decline, dropping about 46 percent from 2013.
The minimum number of wolves counted by Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks at the end of 2014 was 554 compared to a minimum of 627 wolves counted at the end of 2013 according to Montana Fish, Wildlife and Park’s annual wolf conservation and management report.
Montana’s minimum wolf packs were counted at 134, compared to 152 last year, while breeding pairs increased to 33 from 28 counted last year.
The minimum wolf count is the number of wolves actually verified by FWP wolf specialists. The actual number of wolves is estimated to be 27 percent to 37 percent higher than the minimum count. FWP’s complete report is available online at fwp.mt.gov.
Overall, FWP Director Jeff Hagener said Montana’s wolf population continues to be very healthy and far above federal recovery goals.
“Among the best news is that confirmed wolf depredations on livestock again took a significant drop in 2014,” Hagener said.
Confirmed livestock depredations because of wolves included 35 cattle, six sheep and one horse in 2014, down 46 percent from 2013 losses of 50 cattle, 24 sheep, three horses and one goat. Cattle losses in 2014 were the lowest recorded in the past eight years.
The decline in wolf depredations continues a general downward trend that began in 2009.
“For FWP, and we hope for others, it reinforces the fact that we not only have more tools for managing wolf populations, but that we’re applying them effectively,” Hagener said. “One of our top priorities is to minimize livestock losses, and we think we’re continuing to make a positive impact there.”
The continuing decrease in livestock depredations over the past four years may be a result of several factors including targeted wolf depredation responses in cooperation with USDA Wildlife Services, and the effects of wolf harvest by hunters and trappers.
In the 2014 calendar portion of the 2014-15 hunting/trapping season, 213 were taken by hunters and trappers compared to 231 taken in the 2013 calendar portion of the 2013-14 season.
The total number of known wolf mortalities during 2014 was 308, down from 335 in 2013, with 301 of these mortalities being human-related, including 213 legal harvests, 57 control actions to further reduce livestock depredations (down from 75 in 2013), 11 vehicle strikes, 10 illegal killings, six killed under the newly-enacted Montana State Senate Bill 200, two capture-related mortalities, one euthanized because of poor health and one legal tribal harvest. In addition, one wolf died of natural causes and six of unknown causes.
“Montana’s wolf management program seeks to manage wolves just like we do other wildlife — in balance with their habitat, with other wildlife species and with the people who live here,” Hagener said.
For the purpose of reporting minimum counts to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Montana is divided into three areas that reflect the former gray wolf federal recovery zones. The three zones cover the entire state and include more than one FWP region. Following is a summary of the 2014 minimum counts verified for those areas:
•In the “Northwest Montana” area, counts showed a minimum of 338 wolves in 91 verified packs and 17 breeding pairs, compared to 412, 104, and 16, respectively, in 2013.
•In the Montana portion of the “Central Idaho” area counts verified a minimum of 94 wolves in 20 packs, with six breeding pairs, compared to the 2013 counts of 123, 26, and seven respectively.
•The Montana portion of the “Greater Yellowstone” counts include a minimum of 122 wolves in 23 packs, and 11 breeding pairs, compared to 132, 22, and five, respectively in 2013.
The recovery of the wolf in the northern Rockies remains one of the fastest endangered species comebacks on record. In the mid-1990s, to hasten the overall pace of wolf recovery in the Northern Rockies, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released 66 wolves into Yellowstone National Park and central Idaho. FWP began monitoring the wolf population, and managing livestock conflicts in 2004. After several court challenges wolves were taken off the Endangered Species list in 2011.
The delisting of wolves in 2011 allows Montana to manage wolves in a manner similar to how bears, mountain lions and other wildlife species are managed, which is guided by state management plans, administrative rules and laws.