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Montana Wolf Population Grows in 2007

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Thursday, March 13, 2008

More than 420 wolves now inhabit Montana, nearly equally distributed between the state's northern and southern areas, according to the annual wolf conservation and management  report released by Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks.

FWP’s report, which is available on line at fwp.mt.gov, shows Montana's wolf population increased about 34 percent from last year. The minimum Montana wolf population is estimated at 422 wolves, in 73 verified packs, and 39 breeding pairs.

FWP’s report is part of the annual federal recovery update required by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The end of 2007 count also estimates that 359 wolves inhabited Wyoming and 732 wolves inhabited Idaho. Annual reports from Idaho, Wyoming, and information about wolves in Yellowstone National Park and the northern Rockies as a whole are available on line at http://westerngraywolf.fws.gov.

Most of the increase in Montana's wolf population occurred in northwestern and far western Montana near the Idaho border where the population grew by about 92 wolves. Wolf numbers in the Montana Greater Yellowstone Area increased by about 14 wolves.

"Our monitoring is getting better and we have hunters, landowners and many others taking the time tell us where and when they see wolves or wolf sign," said Carolyn Sime, FWP's wolf management coordinator in Helena.

In the northwestern Montana endangered area, biologists estimate the wolf population at 213 wolves, in 36 verified packs, and 23 breeding pairs. In the southern Montana experimental area, biologists estimate the wolf population at 209 wolves, in 37 verified packs, and 16 breeding pairs.

While wolves are still listed under the Endangered Species Act, they remain under two different sets of federal regulations in Montana.  These regulations will expire when the wolf is delisted. The federal delisting decision is set to take effect in late March, but legal challenges now underway may stall the removal of the wolf from the federal list of endangered species.

A total of 102 wolf deaths documented in 2007, 73 were related to livestock depredations, seven were killed illegally, and six were struck by vehicles or trains. Others died from a variety of causes common to all wildlife species, including poor health and old age. Despite the loss of 102 wolves, the Montana wolf population is still very secure. FWP documented a minimum of 163 pups at the end of 2007.

Confirmed cattle deaths in Montana increased from 32 in 2006 to 75 in 2007, and confirmed sheep death losses increased from four to 27. Three wolf packs accounted for 25 percent of the confirmed cattle losses and 30 percent of the wolves authorized to be killed in response. One wolf pack and lone wolves were responsible for all confirmed sheep losses. Two llamas and three 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.

"We know Montana's wolves inhabit places where people live, work and recreate," Sime said. "We expect and try to anticipate conflicts and gear much of our wolf management work toward helping landowners reduce the risk of livestock depredations."

Sime noted that of 73 wolves that were killed to prevent further depredations, 11 were killed by private citizens in southern Montana's experimental area. She said a variety of nonlethal tools were also employed in cooperation with landowners to reduce potential conflicts. For example, FWP again collaborated in several range rider projects. FWP and Wildlife Services also field-tested electrified fladry for the first time through a Conservation Innovation Grant provided by the USDA Natural Resources and Conservation Service.

USFWS recently announced that it would delist the northern Rocky Mountain’s gray wolves in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming—and parts of Washington and Utah—on March 28, based in part on the USFWS’s determination that the northern Rocky Mountain population has exceeded recovery goals and all potential threats to the wolf have been resolved.

The minimum recovery goal for wolves in the northern Rocky Mountains is 30 breeding pairs and at least 300 wolves for three consecutive years, a goal that was attained in 2002 and has been exceeded every year since.

To learn more about Montana’s recovered wolf population, and to access Montana's 2007 annual wolf program report , visit FWP online at fwp.mt.gov. Click "Montana Wolves". Web visitors can also tell FWP when they see wolves or wolf sign. The information helps to verify the activity, distribution, and pack sizes of Montana’s recovered wolf population.