There were wolves in Montana before the reintroduction

Latest “shocker” from anti-wolf is no shock at all-

The anti-wolf folks are always coming up with new charges, which generally just show they haven’t been paying attention.

The latest is that there were wolves in Montana prior to the reintroduction in Idaho and Yellowstone!!!!

This is true, but it is not some hidden conspiracy. The fact has been discussed in numerous books and articles, and USFWS duly reported the number of Montana wolves and location of these wolves each year in its annual reports.

Here are the figures taken from their annual reports:

1979 = 2 wolves; 1980 = 1; 1981 = 2; 1982 = 8; 1983 = 6 1984 = 6; 1985 = 13; 1986 =15; 1987 = 10; 1988 = 14; 1989 = 12; 1990 = 33; 1991 = 29 1992= 41; 1993 = 55; 1994 = 48;   reintroduction 1995 = 66

Oddly enough after reintroduction, the numbers stagnated for quite a while. For example, there were only 64 wolves in 2000.

It’s reasonable to assume that without reintroduction, wolves would have naturally reestablished themselves in most of Montana, but migration would have been slow with a lot of wolves up north before they made it to Yellowstone and Wyoming. Because these wolves were fully “endangered,” rules governing them would have been a lot more strict than with those that were finally reintroduced in 1995.



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  1. jon Avatar

    Hey Ralph, I don’t know if I would call this a latest shocker. I have been hearing this for months and months from the anti-wolfers. They claim that a population of so called much smaller much less aggressive native timberwolves existed. Ofcourse, they have no way to prove this. Maybe they just don’t want to admit or accept that these so called much bigger canadian wolves were entering Idaho and Montana and Wyoming naturally. You are 100% correct, wolves were have been coming here whether people helped them or not naturally and on their own.

    1. Ralph Maughan Avatar


      Before reintroduction, the Urbigkits filed a lawsuit saying there was a smaller wolf native to the area, but the judge found against them.

      If you think about it, how would a different kind of wolf inhabit the area after the thousands of years of wolf migration up and down the Rockies and across the plains?

      Secondly, assuming there was a smaller wolf, why would its ecological effects be any different? As it is observed today, the biggest wolves are no more likely to be better hunters than smaller wolves.

      The nice thing about these supposed smaller wolves was that they were not seen or heard (excepting an uncanny similarity to coyote howls) and they didn’t seem to eat cattle, sheep or wild animals.

  2. jon Avatar

    This smaller wolf some were seeing could have easily been “canadian” wolves that came down naturally as you know and others that these wolves aren’t actually all that big like some make them out to be. Some do not want wolves back period. If these “native” wolves weren’t seen or heard and didn’t seem to eat cattle, sheep, or wild animals, why would they basically wiped out? DOn’t the anti-wolfers say there was a reason why our forefathers wiped the wolf out? I don’t believe the subspecies matters to the anti-wolfers although they will bring it up a lot. I think it has more to do with the fact that wolves are back and no matter what kind of wolf it is, it will eat other wild animals specifically wild animals that hunters tend to want to hunt and it will sometimes eat livestock if the opportunity presents itself.

  3. Save bears Avatar
    Save bears

    Those of us that have lived in NW Montana have known there have been wolves in the state for a long time now, not a lot, but they were hear, and really based on the ones I have seen over the years, they are no different than the pictures I have seen from the past, I really don’t think there is a way to say this one or that one..and when you talking the Northern states, it really does not matter, a wolf is a wolf..

    1. jon Avatar

      I agree with that sb, but to some, a wolf is not a wolf. If you were to put this so called canadian wolf in a room with a so called native wolf, I don’t think there would be any difference between the two besides maybe the “canadian” grey wolf slightly weighing a bit more.

      1. Barb Rupers Avatar
        Barb Rupers

        Perhaps this is worth repeating from the August 16 “anything interesting”:
        I was so impressed by the head mount of a wolf which I saw in the mid 1950s in Glacier National Park that I recently asked the GNP about it. Here is the response.

        Dear Barb–
        Your email inquiry about a mounted wolf head here at Glacier was forwarded
        to my office. I knew instantly the item you were referring to and I asked
        my student intern to retrieve the details:

        The black female wolf was shot in late May 1950 by a Glacier National Park
        Ranger stationed in Polebridge named David Stimson. The ranger was called
        to the J.S. McFarland Ranch by the owner because the wolf had continued to
        harass Mr. McFarland’s cattle despite repeated attempts to drive it away.
        Approximately fifteen minutes after receiving the call from the ranch,
        Ranger Stimson arrived on the scene and helped the ranchers in their
        attempts to chase off the wolf. After repeated attempts it became apparent
        that the wolf was not interested in leaving, continuing to try and get
        around the men and the ranger’s Jeep. Finally Ranger Stimson made a
        judgement call and decided that the animal must be put down for livestock
        and human safety, shooting what was later referred to by the park
        superintendent as a “gaunt and mangy” specimen. Two other wolves were seen
        in the area and could be heard all night but neither were aggressive or
        persistent, leaving quickly after being chased off and never returning.
        Stimson then took the wolf back to Polebridge where he informed the chief
        ranger in the morning, who in turn notified the Glacier Superintendent, who
        notified the regional director. The female wolf was taken to taxidermist
        where the head was mounted. The specimen was eventually removed from
        display in a park office and was transferred to the museum collection where
        we continue to keep it to this day.

        The following measurements were taken from the wolf:

        Height at shoulders – 34 inches

        Overall length – 70 inches

        Length of tail – 22 inches

        Tip of toe to heel on the front paw – 6 inches

        Chest – 34 inches

        Weight – 130 pounds

        I hope this information has addressed your questions. If we can be of
        further assistance, please let us know.

        Deirdre Shaw, Museum Curator
        Glacier National Park
        West Glacier, MT 59936
        Phone: (406) 888-7936
        Fax: (406) 888-7937

    2. Ralph Maughan Avatar

      The anti-wolf don’t like the Mexican wolf any more than than the wolves of the northern rocky mountains in Idaho/Montana.

      . . . and the Mexican wolf is a smaller wolf !

  4. Larry Zuckerman Avatar

    This follows “Bergmann’s Rule”, where mammals get larger as you go further North. Has to do basically with internal thermoregulation – keeping body temperature in the Northern winters vs staying cool as you approach the Tropics. Larger birds and mammals lose less heat per body mass than smaller animals with higher body to surface ratios. It takes less energy to maintain their internal temperature than for smaller animals, like hummingbirds, which need to take in a lot of calories.

    Other examples are certainly North American deer with the tiny Key deer to the south and larger white-tailed and mule deer as you go further and further north. I have also heard that moose in Alaska and Canada are larger than moose found in Idaho, but I don’t have any data to back that up. Not sure about grizzly bears, but I am pretty sure that Florida black bears are smaller than those of more northern climates.

    So… it would not surprise me to find smaller Mexican wolves to the south and larger wolves closer to the Arctic in Canada and Alaska. The source of the reintroduction wolves for Yellowstone and Central Idaho was British Columbia, not exactly the Arctic. Even without the FWS’ meddling, as long as wolves were protected from shooting, trapping, and poisoning under ESA, it would not be too surprising to find gray wolves in Canada moving into vacant niches in Idaho, Montana, and Washington.

    I have spoken to a few of the older backcountry outfitters from the Salmon, ID area and they occasionally ran into or saw a wolf in the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness, way before the FWS reintroduction into Idaho. Perhaps there wasn’t many problems with domestic livestock because the wolves were in lower numbers in the wilderness areas, where there are less opportunities to attack a cow or sheep. Also they seem to be describing to me lone wolves, not packs. Not too hard to believe that single wolves are less likely to attack a cow or horse than a pack.

    Just some things to ponder.

    1. Ralph Maughan Avatar

      Larry Zuckerman,

      There were a lot of rumors of wolves in the Frank Church and the Selway Bitterroot Wilderness prior of the reintroduction. A couple years earlier a wolf (poisoned) showed up near Warm Lake.

      I think it is likely a pack formed now and then, but probably disappeared due to lack of other wolves to mate with or they were shot or poisoned. Yes livestock and other folks were determined to keep wolves out of Idaho, so this new mythology about how they were willing to go along with 150 is not supported by the facts.

      In fact after 4 or 5 years, it was clear that 3 wolf packs had been founded when a prexisting male met an introduced female. The 3 packs were the Kelly Creek Pack, the White Clouds Pack and the Thunder Mountain Pack.

      Because all three “native” wolves were males, they were not going to the create packs without a influx of females from the reintroduction.

  5. JimT Avatar

    Ralph, I am not sure wolves would have re-established themselves on their own, even with ESA protections. I think Malloy’s ruling drew back the curtain and let us see the true faces and hear the true voices of the folks who hate wolves and the idea they should share the ecosystem with them. SSS was always going to happen. It is just convenient to blame the current situation on the Feds, DOW, environmentalists…the old scapegoat/fear for your life equation still seems to work.

    1. Ralph Maughan Avatar


      Yes they probably have a sign up in their office, “don’t let fear die!”

  6. Save bears Avatar
    Save bears

    I don’t know JimT,

    Wolves in NW Montana have done quite well on their own with out any supplemental help, they have been colonizing for quite some time now, and enjoy a pretty good population base. Remember the wolves reintroduced were in Yellowstone and Central Idaho. Remember all of the wolves north of I-90 are considered natural populations of migrating wolves and there are quite a few packs now..

    1. Cobra Avatar

      I think most of the wolves north of I-90 actually came from the south. We’ve been seeing them push their way farther and farther north since reintroduction. The packs up around Bonners Ferry, Clark Fork and Noxon probably came from Canada but the packs up the CDA river and surrounding areas most likely came from the south. When we started seeing sign in the St. Joe drainage it wasn’t even a year later and it was common to see wolves and sign in Mullan and other areas north of I-90. Now there are several packs in the CDA river drainage. Had them screw up a bow hunt just last saturday.

      1. Save bears Avatar
        Save bears


        I really don’t know the migratory patterns of the wolves in Idaho, I was speaking of the NW Montana wolves, which I am more familiar with, in the area of my house, I am pretty sure these are wolves that have migrated from Canada, not the south and there have been quite a few packs in the NW Montana area that FWP has determined were migrants from Canada. Now of course, the genetic make up of the migrants and the re-introduced wolves would be virtually the same…

      2. Ralph Maughan Avatar


        You are right, well probably right. The wolves in Northern Idaho today come from the reintroduced wolves and that was south of where you live.

      3. Ken Cole Avatar


        I think what Cobra is saying, and I agree to a point, is that wolves from Idaho have given the wolves of NW Montana a big boost in numbers. I-90 probably isn’t much of a barrier between the wolves to the north and south now that there are many wolves on each side.

        I don’t think that the NW Montana wolves are all descendants of the naturally established population. To the contrary, I think a very high percentage of their genetics probably comes from those reintroduced to Idaho.

      4. Save bears Avatar
        Save bears


        You and Cobra, may very well be right, but my question is, and I asked this often when I was with FWP, is there enough real genetic difference to be able to conclusively say yes or no? In my opinion, and based on experience as well as answers from the wolf biologists, can’t say I believe there is enough to conclusively say they are..the whole gray area in this, to me is which population in the northern parts of the states are introduced and which part are natural?

        Which is also one of the reasons, I question the political boundary issue, unless we are able to establish the genetic situation and what lives where, the re-introduction is still divided by a political boundary, as you said, I-90 is not much of a barrier.. We still have two populations of wolves, that are being treated differently based on a man made line…

  7. Nancy Avatar

    JimT- I can’t help but think SSS was a very popular option even AFTER wolves were declared endangered in the 70’s,
    considering their still very low numbers by the early 90’s.

    Watched an old Disney flick last night called King of the Grizzlies. About a cattle baron and his problems with a super-sized grizzly (it was produced in 1970) During the film there was footage of what were probably stunt wolves? wandering around a chunk of beef, hung over numerous traps. The problem griz happens upon the bait, sets the traps off and then leaves (and the taste of metal traps, leave a lasting impression)

    The next scene is the Native American foreman ( who feels a bond with the grizzly and happens to be at the scene shortly after the bear leaves) shooting a couple of the wolves and later tossing their, already skinned out pelts, towards his boss and commenting about not having to worry about those wolves anymore.

    The scenery was fabulous, the actors sucked and all the animals no doubt were trained performers (except for the cattle) but it was a rare glimpse of the mentality then and now.

  8. Save bears Avatar
    Save bears

    I don’t think that SSS has ever gone away, and after what I have seen over the years, I don’t think it ever will, there are still to many people out there that you can’t legislate or pass laws that are going to change their minds… With the light duty penalties, why should even think about changing. Until they are treated like the criminals they are, they are not going to stop.

  9. ProWolf in WY Avatar
    ProWolf in WY

    I don’t think anyone has ever denied there were wolves in Montana before the reintroduction. Do people in northwest Montana bitch about Canadian wolves? Do they understand international boundaries?

  10. Save bears Avatar
    Save bears

    In NW Montana, you don’t hear quite as much rhetoric about “Canadian Wolves” but never the less, there is a strong hatred for them in many areas of NW Montana..

    I won’t name, names on here, but I can tell you, quite a few of them are pretty prominent business people and community leaders.

    1. ProWolf in WY Avatar
      ProWolf in WY

      I never heard anyone say Canadian wolves (which I’ve only heard once in a different context in Wyoming by the way) in northwest Montana, I just knew a lot of people who were anti-wolf due to the fact that it is fashionable there.

  11. Nancy Avatar

    I seem to recall a few years after wolves were reintroducted to Yellowstone and they started showing up around Dillon, a few of the ranchers thought they were just trying to go home. Does anyone have any knowledge about wolves being held in holding pens outside of Wisdom, in order to see if they would acclimate to the elevation in YNP? It was a “rumor” going around.

  12. Ralph Maughan Avatar


    The acclimation pens were in Yellowstone Park. The wolves were held for three months in them because they believed the wolves might return to Canada.

    In fact none of the reintroduced wolves are known to have returned to Canada. The fate of all the Yellowstone wolves is recorded.

    There is one exception to the acclimation pens in Yellowstone. In Nov. 1996, two Idaho wolves, B7M and B11F were recaptured and placed in an enclosure in the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness. In Feb. 1997, wolf B7 escaped and returned to the Big Hole Valley where he had been originally captured after killed some livestock. He was captured again in April ’97 and put back in the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness enclosure.

    Finally in August 1997, B7 and B11 were released together on the North Fork of the Clearwater River and they founded a pack that lived around Lolo Pass for many years.

    I believe B7 survived to become one of the oldest known wild wolves in history. He was hit by a vehicle in 2007 about 15 miles from the Big Hole Valley. He was estimated to be 14 to 15 years old.

    I suppose the history of these two wolves near the Big Hole and the enclosure pens in the Wilderness led to the rumor that the pens were just outside Wisdom, which is in the Big Hole Valley.

  13. Nancy Avatar

    Thanks for the info Ralph. Makes sense, Selway-Bitterroot area is just a hop, skip and a jump away from the Big Hole Valley.
    In the late 90’s and into 2000, I’d hear about the occasional sightings in the Big Hole, before it turned into an all out, ugly war – Wolves vs Ranchers. And even though there were few wolves around, in my mind and in the minds of others, wolves were never really given the opportunity……… or chance, to co-exist. WS did and continues to cater to livestock interests whether you agree with their tactics (politics) or not.

  14. Michelle Fosheim Avatar
    Michelle Fosheim

    Where do you all live? How much time do you REALLY spend in the woods? How many of you have been to these areas where the wolves are to see the impact, both economically and biologically? I have. I’ve been to SW Montana, recently. There are no elk. The only deer left are in people’s yards. An Outfitter had a mule attacked in broad daylight. We drove through Yellowstone. We only saw a very few elk (16 total) near buildings (humans). We saw deer….at the entrance and exit, but not in the park. The Moose is a vanished species. What about the decimation of other wildlife? Why not care about them too? And livestock??? While eating your steak tonight, remember that they’re raised where the wolves are. The wolves are attacking them on PRIVATE LAND, not public land. What about the rancher’s livelihood? What if they opened stock trading to anyone with inside information, and protected those ‘wolves’? What if YOUR livelihood, way of life were threatened? Try walking in our boots for awhile. If you don’t live in these areas that are being killed by the wolves, both economically and biologically, then how can you pass judgment on decent people who merely want to manage these animals? …..Just a Wyoming ranch wife!

    1. Ralph Maughan Avatar

      Michelle Fosheim,

      I live in Pocatello, Idaho. I’ve lived in Idaho, Utah, Idaho or Wisconsin all my life. My wife and I wrote the book “Hiking Idaho.” It is 103 hikes all over Idaho. With Lee Mercer, I wrote a backpacking guide to Wyoming’s Waskakie and Teton Wilderness areas. I have run into wolves and grizzly bears face to face. I have always spent much of my free time in outdoor activities in the hill, mountains, open plains. I’ve been watching the effect of wolves since they were reintroduced.

      The wolves have had some impacts. We can debate about exactly what they are, but I don’t see the changes you wrote of or else I see other explanations for them, all or in part. I don’t think ranchers have felt much effect from the wolves except being offended that it happened and trading scary stories back and forth.

      Ralph Maughan,
      co-webmaster, Wildlife News

      I am also emailing this to you in case you are a one-time poster.


Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University. He was a Western Watersheds Project Board Member off and on for many years, and was also its President for several years. For a long time he produced Ralph Maughan’s Wolf Report. He was a founder of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. He and Jackie Johnson Maughan wrote three editions of “Hiking Idaho.” He also wrote “Beyond the Tetons” and “Backpacking Wyoming’s Teton and Washakie Wilderness.” He created and is the administrator of The Wildlife News.

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Ralph Maughan