The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is praising Idaho and Montana for successful management of gray wolves. In its 2011 Annual Report for the Northern Rocky Mountain Wolf Population, the Service now estimates the region's wolf population at 1774 animals and 109 breeding pairs.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Mountain-Prairie Regional Director Steve Guertin said, "these population estimates indicate the credible and professional job Montana and Idaho have done in the first year after they have assumed full management responsibilities." He said the states' management plans will maintain a healthy wolf population at or above the agency's recovery goals.
According to the report, the Rocky Mountain wolf population is biologically recovered and has exceeded recovery goals for ten consecutive years. In addition, the population fully occupies nearly all suitable habitat. The Service delisted wolves in the region (except Wyoming) on May 5, 2011.
The Idaho Fish and Game Department documented 101 wolf packs in the state by the end of 2011. The population at the end of the year was estimated at 746 wolves, down from a high of 856 at the end of 2009.
Idaho Fish and Game Deputy Director Jim Unsworth credits Idaho's hunters and trappers. He stated, "we've made good progress in getting the wolf population under control and into better balance with prey species, such as elk, but we've still got a ways to go."
The Idaho progress report shows 24 documented border packs were counted for Montana, Wyoming and Washington that established territories overlapping the Idaho state boundary and spent some time in Idaho. Of 63 packs known to have reproduced, 40 packs qualified as breeding pairs by the end of the year. The overall net increase in Idaho was only six packs, with four other packs removed during the year.
Biologists confirmed the deaths of 296 wolves in Idaho during 2011. Of known wolf mortalities, hunter and trapper harvest accounted for 200 deaths and agency control and legal landowner take in response to wolf-livestock depredation accounted for 63 deaths. 18 wolf deaths were attributed to other human causes, including illegal take. The cause of 12 mortalities could not be determined and were listed as unknown. Three died of natural causes.
The report also found that 71 cattle, 121 sheep, three horses, six dogs and two domestic bison were confirmed as wolf kills. Another 19 cattle, 26 sheep, one horse and one dog were considered probable wolf kills.
Fish and Game Wildlife Bureau Chief Jeff Gould says it's critical the state continue to receive adequate federal funding for meeting Endangered Species Act requirements during the post de-listing period. Gould said, "meeting federal obligations for documenting wolf abundance and distribution during the five year post de-listing period is expensive and labor intensive."