Posted: Mar 25, 2013 11:49 AM by MTN News
HELENA - A recently release report shows that the number of wolves counted in Montana fell in 2012.
Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks officials say that state wildlife managers counted at least 625 wolves at the end of 2012, as part of preparing the federally required annual wolf conservation and management report.
FWP's complete report, which is expected to be available online by April 12, will show that Montana's verified minimum wolf count decreased more than 4% in 2012. State officials say that's in comparison to a 15% jump in 2011, and an 8% increase in 2010.
The minimum wolf count is the number of wolves actually verified by FWP wolf specialists and show that at the end of 2012, there were 625 wolves, in 147 packs, and 37 breeding pairs.
While this is the first time since 2004 that the minimum count has decreased, Montana's minimum wolf pack and breeding pairs estimates increased slightly from 2011.
The 2012 numbers do not included the 95 wolves taken by hunters and trappers between Jan. 1 and Feb. 28 of this year.
"We're making some progress," said FWP Director Jeff Hagener. "Confirmed livestock loss has been on a general downward trend since 2009, and we have more tools now for affecting wolf populations. In some areas, where hunting, trapping and livestock-depredation removals have been effective, it looks like the wolf population's growth has been curbed this year. In other areas the population may be leveling off, but we have more work to do. There are still places where we need to manage for a better balance among other Montana wildlife and with Montana's livestock producers and their families."
FWP reports that the "Northwest Montana" area, north of U.S. Highway 12 and Interstate-90 from the Idaho border east to I-15 along the Rocky Mountain Front, counts showed 400 wolves in 100 verified packs and 25 breeding pairs, compared to 372, 85, and 23 respectively in 2011.
An exception to this general upward trend was in the middle Clark Fork and Blackfoot areas where wolf numbers are similar to last year.
Meanwhile, the Montana portion of the "Central Idaho" area includes the portion of western Montana that lies south of U.S. Highway 12 and I-90, and west of I-15, where FWP verified 93 wolves in 23 packs, with four breeding pairs, down from 147, 23, and seven respectively in 2011.
This overall decrease in minimum counts reflects harvest and wolf removals in response to confirmed livestock losses in the Big Hole in recent years. In contrast, the Upper Bitterroot portion of this recovery area continues to support a stable count and number of packs.
Meanwhile, Hagener said 175 wolves were taken by hunters and trappers in the 2012 calendar year, compared to 121 taken by hunters in 2011. The 95 wolves harvested in 2013 as a result of the hunting and trapping seasons that concluded Feb. 28, will be considered in the 2013 minimum wolf counts.
A total of 108 wolves were removed through agency control efforts in 2012 to prevent further livestock loss and by private citizens who caught wolves chasing or attacking livestock, up from 64 in 2011.
Confirmed livestock depredations due to wolves included 67 cattle, 37 sheep, one dog, two horses and one llama in 2012. Cattle losses in 2012 were the lowest recorded in the past six years.
"We've taken a more aggressive approach to wolf-related livestock loss in recent years and this combined with regulated hunting and trapping is lowering livestock conflicts in some areas," Hagener said. "We'll continue to work to minimize loss for our livestock producers."
The minimum federal 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 of Montana, Wyoming and Idaho. The goal was achieved in 2002, according to a news release.