Montana’s wolf population still strong, state agency says

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Wolf numbers in Montana “remained healthy in 2016 and more than three times the federally mandated minimums,” according to a Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks news release.

The agency counted 477 wolves for 2016, down from 536 wolves in 2015.

“(This) doesn’t necessarily reflect a reduction in wolf numbers, but rather a reduction in counting effort,” the news release states.

The 2016 count included a minimum count of 50 breeding pairs compared to 32 in 2015 and 34 in 2014.

“Though the minimum count is down, we’ve long held that these minimum counts are useful only in ensuring Montana’s wolf population stays above the federally mandated minimum threshold,” Bob Inman, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks carnivore and furbearer program chief, states in the news release. “The minimum count is not a population count or an index or estimate of the total number of wolves.”

According to the news release, it’s difficult to determine Montana’s actual wolf population. The agency uses the patch occupancy model, or POM, which “incorporates data on territory and wolf pack sizes, along with hunter observations and known wolf locations to get to a more accurate estimation of wolf populations.”

The agency noted POM data for 2015 and 2016 is not yet available. In 2014, POM data showed 892 wolves in Montana, about 61 percent higher than the minimum counts from that year, the news release states.

The news release notes that the 246 wolves “harvested” by hunters and trappers in the 2016/2017 season represented the “highest harvest to date, but only 16 wolves higher than the 2013/2014 season.”

The news release also notes 57 confirmed wolf livestock depredations — 52 cattle, five sheep — in 2016, down from 64 in 2015.

Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks states that “the recovery of the wolf in the northern Rockies remains one of the fastest endangered species comebacks on record and a real success story,” stemming from the mid-1990s release by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service of 66 wolves into Yellowstone National Park and central Idaho.

The delisting of wolves from the endangered species list in 2011 “allowed Montana to manage wolves as it does any other game species, which is guided by state management plans, administrative rules and laws,” the news release states.

For more information about Montana’s wolf population and to read the 2016 Annual Wolf Report, visit fwp.mt.gov and click “Montana Wolves.”

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