During the year that Wyoming’s wolf hunts were canceled by court order, in September, the total number of known wolves statewide grew to 333, according a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service report released Friday.
Even with hunting out of the equation last fall, a major increase in the still-protected population was never anticipated, said Mike Jimenez, Fish and Wildlife’s Northern Rocky Mountain wolf coordinator. “Just because you’re not having a hunting season doesn’t mean the population is going to take off or anything,” Jimenez said. “It’s a pretty small impact. The hunting season is not a huge source of mortality.”
Even in 2013, when wolf hunts were in place throughout the year, statewide lobo numbers increased 10 percent to 306. The count was 277 animals at the end of 2012, and stood at 328 at the end of 2011 — a year in which wolves were similarly protected from hunters’ bullets and traps.
Across the West, the wolf population grew more than 6 percent last year, from 1,691 to 1,802, according to the Fish and Wildlife’s regional report. Each Western state released its annual report concurrently Friday.
Wolves on Idaho turf fared well, increasing in number 17 percent from 659 to 770. Montana’s wolves, by contrast, declined from 627 animals to 554 — a 12 percent reduction. Both of those Wyoming neighbors held hunts last year and figure to continue wolf hunting this fall. In wolf-hunt-free Oregon and Washington, states into which the animals have naturally moved over the past five or so years, their numbers jumped by nearly 50 percent: from 99 up to 145. “The population as a whole is continuing to grow, and it’s expanding west into Oregon and Washington,” Jimenez said. “They’re way, way above recovery goals.”
Wyoming’s 2014 regulated hunt was shot down Sept. 23, just a week before it was scheduled to begin, when U.S. District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson of Washington, D.C. partially sided with conservationists on a challenge to the Cowboy State’s plan and returned management of wolves to the federal government.
For the first nine months of 2014, unregulated killing of wolves was allowed in the 85 percent of Wyoming known as the “predator zone.” U.S. Rep. Cynthia Lummis, R-Wyoming, has since co-sponsored legislation to overrule the judge’s decision and return jurisdiction of wolves to the Wyoming Game and Fish Department. GovTrack.us gives the bill a 4 percent chance of passing.
Last year 12 Wyoming wolves were legally killed by hunters in the predator zone. Another 31 were killed in retaliation for depredating livestock. Sixty-eight known wolves — some 20 percent of the state’s population — died last year.
Among the living, 104 wolves in 11 packs were classified primarily in Yellowstone National Park. That’s nine more animals than the year before. Another 195 wolves running in 34 packs were found roaming primarily outside of Yellowstone and the Wind River Reservation. A pack of 10 wolves — the St. Lawrence Pack — was classified within the reservation.