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What You Need To Know About Wolves In Montana

Fish & Wildlife

Friday, May 26, 2006

Wolf pup in the Calder Mountain Pack, northwest Montana.  Photo is by Kent Laudon, Region 1 specialist.

Wolf Pup


If you spend much time in the outdoors in Montana, chances are you will eventually see a wolf. With about 45 packs established in the state, roughly 250 individual wolves inhabit the western portion of Montana.

With the increased odds of seeing a wolf, Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks encourages anyone recreating in the outdoors to report sightings or signs of wolves to the nearest FWP regional office, or go FWP's Wolf Observation Report web page. Credible sightings can contribute significantly to the overall effort to monitor wolves.

Beyond reporting a sighting, what do you need to know about wolf behavior?

"People familiar with dogs will recognize the territorial behavior of wolves. Only in wolves these behaviors can be magnified a thousand times," said Carolyn Sime, FWP statewide wolf coordinator.

For example, although domestic dogs and wolves are both territorial, a wolf will kill another wolf, or even a domestic dog, to defend its kill site (food) or geographic territory, Sime said.

Wolves also are more likely to be seen by hikers, bikers and others in the outdoors. That's because wolves don't care if they're seen, where mountain lions and bears prefer to be more secretive.

Maintaining boundaries between people and wolves is also important, as it is with all wildlife species. In the absence of appropriate boundaries, wolves can lose their fear of humans, and that isn't a safe situation for people or for wolves, Sime said.

"This is all fairly new for the people of Montana and for this recovered wolf population. We have to learn how to live with wolves and wolves have to learn how to live with us," Sime said. "It boils down to setting and maintaining boundaries for wolves, managing the population as a whole, and removing individuals that violate the boundaries."

If a wolf approaches you, or you surprise a wolf, Sime suggests that you:

* stand tall and make yourself look larger;

* act aggressively towards it -- make noise and throw objects;

* calmly, but slowly back away and maintain eye contact;

* if the wolf does not run away immediately, continue making yourself large maintaining eye contact, and backing away; do not turn your back on the wolf and do not run away.

If you encounter a wolf and your dog is present, bring your dog to heel at your side as soon as possible. 

"Wild wolves view domestic dogs as another potential competitor for food and space, " Sime said.

Generally, standing between your dog and the wolf will end an encounter. Many factors may affect the outcome however, including whether someone has enabled that particular wolf to become bold in the presence of humans.

Sime said people recreating with their dogs in places wolves inhabit need to keep the dogs close to them and under control at all times for optimum safety.

 Walking Domestic Dogs in Areas Wolves Inhabit:

 * Be able to recognize wolf sign and avoid areas where you see it.

 * Keep your dog on a leash, or have a leash ready to restrain your dog when you are walking in wolf habitat. Dogs running loose, away from people, may attract wolves.

 * Make noise and/or place a bell on the dog collar to alert wolves that humans are associated with a dog; wolves are more likely to avoid contact with a dog when they are aware of humans nearby.

 * If you live near wolves, kennel your dogs or bring them in at night when wolves are most active.

* Don't leave food where it may attract wolves.

Wolves that become increasingly bold or familiar over time, or ones that begin closing the distance they keep from humans, should be reported to the nearest FWP regional office.  

Despite being federally protected, the Endangered Species Act contains a provision that anyone can kill a wolf in self-defense, or in defense of others, when there is imminent danger. Report any close encounters to FWP within 24 hours.

For more on wolves and their behavior, check FWP's Wolf Conservation and Management web page.