A new report from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service shows the gray wolf population in the Northern Rocky Mountain region dropped by 7 percent last year, even as Oregon and Washington wolf populations nearly doubled.
The annual report on gray wolves compiles state and federal data on wolves in Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, north-central Utah and the eastern thirds of Oregon and Washington of Dec. 31, 2012. It tallies population size, livestock depredation, wolf hunts and lethal removals for the entire region.
There were at least 321 confirmed wolf packs and 1,674 wolves in the region at the end of last year, the report concludes. That’s a 12 percent increase in the number of wolf packs from 287 in 2011, but a 7 percent decline in the population from 1,796 in 2011.
Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe said his agency expected a population decline based on state management plans that allow hunters and wildlife managers to kill some wolves. Human-caused wolf deaths including lethal removals by wildlife agencies and harvest by hunters added up to 861 wolves in 2012. States were allowed to implement their own management plans after gray wolves were removed from the federal endangered species list in 2011 (2012 for Wyoming).
“The recovery of the gray wolf in the Northern Rockies continues to be one of the great success stories of the Endangered Species Act, and we are intensely monitoring wolf populations to ensure they remain healthy and robust under state management,” he said in a news release.
The population remains well above the Endangered Species Act recovery goal of 300 wolves in 30 breeding pairs, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reports.
According to the 2012 report, a total of 231 “problem” wolves were lethally removed by agencies or private citizens defending property.
Montana removed 108 wolves by agency control and harvested 175 wolves in hunting season; Idaho removed 73 wolves by agency control and harvested 329 wolves by public hunting; and in Wyoming, 43 wolves were removed by agency control and 66 harvested through regulated hunting. Washington removed seven wolves. In Oregon, no wolves were removed by agency control. No wolves were harvested by hunters in Washington or Oregon.
“Hunters have played a key role for decades in helping to manage and sustain dozens of game populations in North America, and they can do the same for wolves,” said Mike Jimenez, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service gray wolf recovery coordinator for the region. “Hunting remains an accepted and successful wildlife management tool that helps to reduce conflicts with humans, maintain stable populations and generate public support. We’re encouraged by the results of the trophy game hunts in each state.”
Total confirmed depredations by wolves in 2012 included 194 cattle, 470 sheep, six dogs, three horses, and one llama. From 2007 through 2011, an average of 191 cattle depredations occurred each year. An average of 339 sheep depredations occurred each year during this period. About 28 percent of the known wolf packs that existed in 2012 were involved in at least one confirmed cattle or sheep depredation.