The five-year monitoring program for wolves in Montana comes to an end in May 2016, and the 2015 wolf count well exceeds the minimum required by federal guidelines following the 2011 decision to delist wolves from the Endangered Species Act.
The 2015 report, released April 1, 2016, shows a minimum wolf count of 536, with at least 32 breeding pairs.
“It is important to remember that these are minimum wolf counts, meaning that only wolves Fish, Wildlife & Parks could actually document as being on the landscape were included,” said FWP Game Management Bureau Chief John Vore in an April 1 press release. “As wolf numbers have increased there is just no way we can physically count them all. We know there are more wolves out there. According to our best estimates the actual number of wolves is at least 30 percent more than the minimum count.”
When the wolves were delisted, a rule was implemented by both the United States Fish and Wildlife Service and the State of Montana which established a minimum count of 150 wolves, including 15 breeding pairs. The 2011 delisting also required a five-year monitoring plan by the agency to ensure wolves stayed above the established minimum population levels.
FWP director Jeff Hagener said the state’s management program during the past five years has been very successful.
“Wolf management in the 21st century requires us to strike a balance socially and biologically,” he said. “We feel like we are getting closer to that as Montana’s wolf population continues to be stable, healthy and far above recovery goals.”
The state’s program includes trapping and hunting seasons, as well as agency removal of problem animals. The state also passed SB200, which allows landowners to kill wolves posing a threat to livestock or pets. State-managed efforts were responsible for 39 wolf deaths in 2015, the lowest number in a decade. Twelve of those kills were made by landowners exercising SB200 authority.
Total wolf mortality in 2015 was 276 wolves, down 32 from 2014’s total. The total number is all known wolf mortality, including hunting, trapping, poaching, vehicular kills and those taken to address depradation issues.
Despite those mortality figures, FWP officials noted the wolf recovery in the northern Rockies has been one of the fastest species recoveries ever recorded.
“The recovery of the wolf in the northern Rockies remains one of the fastest endangered species comebacks on record,” the agency noted in the press release. “In the mid 1990s, to hasten the overall pace of wolf recovery in the northern Rockies, the USFWS released 66 wolves into Yellowstone National Park and central Idaho. FWP began monitoring the wolf population and managing livestock conflicts in 2004. After several court challenges wolves were successfully delisted in 2011.”