At least 566 wolves inhabit Montana according to the 2010 annual wolf conservation and management report released by Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks.
FWP’s report, http://fwp.mt.gov/wildthings/management/wolf/ar2010.html, shows Montana's minimum wolf population increased about 8 percent in 2010, compared to a 4 percent increase last year and an 18 percent increase in 2008.
The minimum Montana wolf population counts include 566 wolves, in 108 verified packs, and 35 breeding pairs. Montana’s minimum pack count and number of breeding pairs increased from 2009.
"I'm certain we could have successfully reduced the wolf population in 2010 if we could have proceeded with our planned, science-based hunting season," said FWP Director Joe Maurier. "When you look at our management success in 2009, we had a vigorous wolf population at the end of the year and we were still able to control its growth. It's clear that a management strategy that includes hunting can play an important role in managing wolves in Montana. It is a tool we need and one we're still trying to get back."
Last year, FWP joined in a federal lawsuit in defense of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s 2009 decision to delist wolves in Montana and Idaho, but not in Wyoming. The U.S. District Judge in Missoula, however, reinstated federal protections of wolves in the northern Rocky Mountains on Aug. 5.
The minimum recovery goal for wolves in the northern Rocky Mountains was set at a minimum of 30 breeding pairs—successfully reproducing wolf packs—and a minimum of 300 individual wolves for at least three consecutive years and well distributed throughout the recovery area. The goal was achieved in 2002, and the wolf population has increased every year since.
FWP’s report is part of the annual federal recovery update required by USFWS. The end of 2010 count also estimates that at least 343 wolves inhabited Wyoming, up slightly from 2009. The count in Idaho dropped slightly to 705, likely due to the state's decision to reel in monitoring efforts in central Idaho's rugged wilderness areas. Annual reports from Idaho, Wyoming, and information about wolves in Yellowstone National Park and the northern Rockies are available from the USFWS online at http://westerngraywolf.fws.gov
The northern Rockies' "metapopulation" is comprised of wolf populations in Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming. Four packs are now verified in Oregon and Washington within the northern Rocky Mountain Distinct Population segment. Today, at least 1,651 wolves in 244 packs, with about 111 breeding pairs, live in the region, where wolves can travel about freely to join existing packs or form new packs. This, combined with wolf populations in Canada and Alaska, assures the genetic diversity of wolves throughout the region.
Each of the three geographic regions of Montana inhabited by wolves showed slight increases in 2010 from 2009:
-- northwestern Montana's population exhibited the greatest increase where the population grew to a minimum of 326 wolves, in 68 verified packs, and 21 breeding pairs. Seven of the packs reside on reservations where they are managed by Tribal authorities.
-- western Montana's population increased slightly to at least 122 wolves in 21 packs, and eight breeding pairs.
-- southwestern Montana's population increased slightly to at least 118 wolves in 19 packs, and six breeding pairs.
About 24 packs occur along Montana's border with Idaho, 18 of which are included in the Montana estimate. This demonstrates the continued influence of the robust wolf population in Idaho on Montana’s wolf population. Additionally, six packs are shared with Wyoming, four of which are included in Montana’s population.
Compared to Idaho and Wyoming, at 24 percent Montana had the highest rate of known human-caused mortality of wolves in 2010. Officials say that’s due to Montana’s wolf population, as a whole, living on a combination of public and private lands.
Maurier noted, however, that Montana's wolf population still increased and remains well above recovery goals. "Nearly all of Montana’s wolves live outside national parks," he said. "That means an intensive management strategy is needed to strike the right balance between wolves and public acceptance. Unfortunately that's out of our hands, but it's crystal clear that this species is fully recovered. Montana has made room for wolves and it is our position that Montana must be given the authority to manage them."
Wolf recovery in Montana continues to be accompanied by livestock killed by wolves and wolves killed to resolve conflicts, as chronicled in the latest report. Of the 179 wolf deaths documented in 2010, 141 were related to livestock depredations, 13 were illegal kills, and vehicles or trains struck 11. Others died from a variety of causes common to all wildlife species, including poor health and old age. Twelve packs were removed due to chronic conflicts with livestock. A few others disbanded and not longer exist.
Still, Maurier said the Montana wolf population grew by adding at least 140 new pups by the end of December and by establishing at least 21 new packs in 2010. Cattle deaths confirmed by USDA Wildlife Services in Montana decreased from 97 in 2009 to 87 in 2010, and confirmed sheep death losses dropped from 202 to 64. About 31 percent of Montana wolf packs were confirmed to have killed livestock, down from 38 percent in 2009. Three llamas, three goats, one horse, four miniature horses, and two dogs were also confirmed killed by wolves. Additional losses and injuries occurred, but either could not be verified or were determined to be "probable" wolf kills.
Maurier noted that 128 wolves were killed through agency control efforts to prevent further depredations, down slightly from 135 in 2009. Private citizens killed an additional 13 wolves caught chasing or attacking livestock, compared with 10 in 2009.
A variety of nonlethal predation deterrents were also employed in Montana in cooperation with landowners to reduce the risk of wolf attacks. For example, FWP again collaborated in several range-rider projects and provided fladry—cloth or plastic flags that are attached to wire that can deter wolves from approaching an area—to numerous private landowners.
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, 66 wolves were released into Yellowstone National Park and central Idaho.
FWP has led wolf management under the federal guidelines since 2004. The relisting of wolves in August, 2010 prevents Montana from managing 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.