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Idaho Wolf Numbers. End of the increase?

Oct. 10, 2002

On October 7, Wildlife Services finally killed two members of the Jureano Mountain wolf pack near Salmon, Idaho. The alpha male had originally been the target, but he consistently hid in the timber. The entire pack had been involved in 6 known and 1 probable cow calf killings this year. Because of the difficulty getting the alpha male, I presume that's why the alpha female, B46F and a previously unknown sub-adult male, were killed when the opportunity presented itself. The wolves were shot from a helicopter.

Although the pack still has 4 members -- the alpha male, a sub-adult female, and two pups, it no longer counts as a breeding pair this year for delisting purposes. Ed Bangs said the four remaining wolves should be sufficient to regenerate the pack next spring. This reduces the number of known breeding pairs in Idaho this year from 11 to 10.

The known number of pups in Idaho this year is low -- just 42 known pups at mid-August, versus 82 at the end of 2001. I have been predicting for about a year now that the populations of wolves in all three states -- Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming is near its peak, and will not continue to grow as wolf detractors fear. 

Is this evidence for my prediction?

"Yes, and no" would be my answer. Yes, because litter size is clearly down among packs in Idaho this year. Only one pack, Landmark, had a large litter this spring (11 pups in a double litter). Moreover only 10 breeding pairs of wolves are known to exist in the Idaho recovery area.

However, reality on the ground is at least somewhat different. The are a number of well documented reports of additional uncollared packs in the Idaho wolf recovery area (which includes much of SW Montana). Carter Niemeyer, Idaho wolf manager for the USFWS told me that there are at least 6 or 7 wolves in the West Fork of the Bitterroot River area (west of Darby, Montana) and a group, probably a pack in the Big Hole Valley area of SW Montana. Idaho Fish and Game also reported seeing a number of unreported groups (quite possibly packs) during their flights for elk counts this spring. Finally, several known groups of wolves probably had pups this year, but confirmation of the fact is not in.

Niemeyer said that lack of funding and concentration on areas where there have been livestock depredations has resulted in a lower percentage of collared wolves in most of the Idaho wolf recovery area. As a result, some packs lack collars and are hard to find.

The total population count for the Idaho recovery area still stands at about 260, the same as last year, although it is clear that additional wolf groupings or packs exist. However, it is also true that some of the pups counted earlier this year have died. At any rate, asking whether the wolf population growth has paused or ended is an important question. We will probably have a clear answer within a year to a year-and-a-half.

Regarding, wolf depredations on cattle, only two Idaho recovery area packs have consistently killed livestock this summer. Foremost is the Jureano Mountain pack, which made 6  confirmed kills -- 3 on private land and 3 on public; and the Gold Fork Pack, SE of McCall in western Idaho, with 2 confirmed kills.

Niemeyer said, however, that both packs probably killed considerably more calves that were never discovered on the public range. He said ranchers who are now rounding up their cattle in these areas are reporting unusual numbers of "dry cows" (cows that calved, but are returning without a calf). 

Despite these 2 packs, depredations of cattle have been low in Idaho this summer and early fall. In general, depredations per wolf have declined in Idaho even as the number of wolves has grown. This is contrary to many official and unofficial predictions made between 1995-8 as to how we could expect livestock losses to grow proportionately or more than proportionately with the wolf population increase.

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  Copyright 2002 Ralph Maughan

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Ralph Maughan PO Box 8264, Pocatello, ID 83209