Wolf Population Grows in Three States
BILLINGS, Mont. -- The number of wolves in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming continues to grow, with at least 1,300 in the three states at the end of 2006, federal officials say.
"I keep thinking we're at the top end of the bubble," said Ed Bangs, wolf recovery coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. "I can't see that there's room for any more, but we'll see."
The wolf population has, on average, grown by about 26 percent a year for the past decade. The reports of livestock being killed by wolves have also increased, as has the number of wolves killed after livestock attacks.
There are at least 316 wolves in Montana, 311 in Wyoming and 673 in Idaho, according to the 2006 federal report.
Bangs said the wolf population will eventually level off, and will likely decrease once state agencies take over management of the predators and are able to control the population through hunting.
The fastest-growing area for wolves last year was in Wyoming outside Yellowstone National Park, where the number of wolves jumped 31 percent, from 134 in 2005 to 175 in 2006.
With that increase, 123 cows were reportedly killed by wolves, more than has ever been recorded in Wyoming since the reintroduction. In response, a record 44 wolves were killed.
In Montana, the number of wolves grew by 19 percent, nearly all of that in the northwestern part of the state, said Carolyn Sime, leader of the wolf program for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks.
Montana reported 14 new wolf packs last year, including several established by young males that left other packs in the state.
Two packs took heavy hits after preying on livestock. Fifteen wolves were killed from the Sleeping Child pack in southwest Montana, and 11 were removed from the Spotted Dog pack near Avon.
Overall, at least 32 cows and four sheep were killed by wolves, according to the annual report, and 53 wolves were removed.
Human activities, both legal and illegal, are the leading cause of death for wolves in Montana.
In Yellowstone, the wolf population grew by about 15 percent last year from 118 to 136. That growth comes after a decline in 2005 attributed to a canine disease that wiped out scores of pups.
Yellowstone wolves killed in 2006 were most likely killed by other wolves. Social strife, especially on the densely populated Northern Range, and competition for prey meant more territorial skirmishes that can be deadly.
The number of elk, which are wolves' primary winter prey, has declined 50 percent in the area since 1995. A decreasing prey base and increasing wolf density is likely to mean a decline in wolf numbers over the next several years, biologists said.
The Fish and Wildlife Service said the wolf population has, for seven years, met basic recovery goals of 30 breeding pairs distributed across the three states and the agency has recommended removing wolves from protection under the Endangered Species Act.
However, the federal government and the state of Wyoming haven't reached an agreement on a management plan.
The latest proposal is to delist wolves in Montana, Idaho and all of Wyoming except for the northwest corner, where they would still be managed by the federal government.
Source: Associated Press