Number of wolves in state increases; livestock loss remains low-

The estimated number of wolves in Idaho increased from 684 at the end of 2013 to 770 at the end of 2014. This 2013 figure has been retroactively revised from that presented to the public in April of 2014.

These data are in the 2014 “Idaho Wolf Monitoring Progress Report” prepared and released by Idaho Fish and Game Department in cooperation with the Nez Perce Tribe.

The reported increase in wolf numbers comes after four successive years of population decline since the end of 2010. The Idaho wolf population topped out at 856 in 2009, falling to an estimated 684 at the end of 2013. Most of the increase is the result of fewer Idaho wolves being killed in 2014.

The report said, “Mortalities of 360 wolves were documented in Idaho in 2014, 113 wolves (24%) less than in 2013. Human-caused mortality accounted for 342 of 344 (99%) wolf mortalities during 2014 where the cause of death could be determined. Legal harvest was 256 wolves, agency removal and legal take was 67 wolves, and mortality from other human causes was 19 wolves. Sixteen wolf mortalities were attributed to unknown causes and two were attributed to natural causes.”

Livestock depredations by wolves remained very low compared to years past. Only 107 sheep were lost or deemed likely lost to wolves in 2014 compared to 413 in 2013. Cattle losses grew slightly from 46 to 53. The fifty-three dead cattle was still lower than in all but two of the last ten years. Sheep losses in Idaho, and in all of the wolf states, are more variable from year to year than are cattle losses to wolves.

The number of wolf packs in Idaho was estimated at 104, and 23 more considered to be interstate packs — shared with Montana, Washington, or Wyoming. Despite the lower wolf population in 2013, there were more packs then (112) than at the end of 2014 (104). This means that the average size of a wolf pack grew larger in 2014. The average size of a wolf pack was 6.5 wolves compared to 5.4 wolves in 2013. The average size of Idaho wolf packs prior to hunting (2005-2008 average) was 8.1 wolves. Hunting a wolf population tends to produce more packs because hunting makes vacancies in a wolf pack. These holes in the pack often lead to its collapse, with the remaining wolves forming two or so packs out of the surviving members.

The average size of a wolf litter in 2014 was 4.7 pups.

Wolf packs were distributed throughout the state except for southern Idaho, where just one pack formed and did not survive. There were, however, many public sightings of wolves in southern Idaho.

The number of confirmed breeding pairs counted (26 were observed out of 43 packs examined) easily surpassed the minimum required. It appears that after finding that there were plenty of breeding pairs (26) to meet legal requirements, the department could not calculate a total number of estimated breeding pairs from the rest of the estimated 61 packs. “No determination of breeding pair status could be made for the remaining 61 packs” [Idaho Fish and Game 2014 report. p.6.]

– – – – –

Addition on April, 6, 2015. The Center for Biological Diversity is questioning the validity of the wolf population data. See, “Idaho’s Claim of Increased Wolf Numbers Belied by  Sharp Drop in Number of Documented Breeding Pairs.” Center for Biological Diversity. News Release.

 
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About The Author

Ralph Maughan

Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University with specialties in natural resource politics, public opinion, interest groups, political parties, voting and elections. Aside from academic publications, he is author or co-author of three hiking/backpacking guides.

49 Responses to Idaho wolf report for 2014 released. Wolf pop. increases

  1. avatar Gary Humbard says:

    This is very good news. The more accurate population is to add ~25% to the known wolf population since not all wolves are found during the surveys.

    A healthy prey base, expanding dispersal of packs, less severe weather, and reduction of kills by WS and landowners due to reduction of predation may be attributable to increase of wolves. It also appears the Idaho Wolf Control Board has not been activated yet.

    With only 53 cattle and 103 sheep lost in a state with tens of thousands of these animals is outstanding. Folks are learning to live with wolves and this should be acknowledged by pro-wolf folks.

    • avatar Ed Loosli says:

      Gary:
      Idaho and Wyoming have HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS of domestic cattle and sheep — not just “tens of thousands”.

      • avatar Ed Loosli says:

        Idaho: Cattle 2 MILLION+
        Sheep 200,000+
        Wyoming: Cattle: 1 MILLION+
        Sheep: 300,000+

        • avatar Ida Lupine says:

          Somehow 333 wolves seems very small in comparison for WY.

          With legislation constantly being pushed (and just waiting) to delist wolves again w/o a good plan in place, how can anyone acknowledge that people are learning to live with them? I know I can’t.

          I don’t trust Idaho’s numbers either.

          • avatar Leslie says:

            Ida, about 100 of those 333 are in the park, which is an increase from last year’s count. The rest are outside the Park, mostly in the mountainous zones. And outside of the ex-trophy zone, wolves will get into trouble and be shot by ‘control’ by USF&W. You can see the map at the website of where the packs are.

          • avatar Joanne Favazza says:

            Ida, I’m with you. I don’t trust Idaho’s numbers either. Saying that the wolf population has increased just gives them an excuse to kill more wolves.

            • avatar Logan says:

              That’s funny that some here don’t trust the IDFG numbers (not that I’m surprised) but most hunters in Idaho don’t trust those numbers either. Those on this blog always contend that the numbers are probably lower while many hunters believe the number is higher.

              I tend to believe the IDFG number is as good an estimate as we’ll ever get and we should operate based on that number. If nothing else it can be seen as an index instead of an accurate population estimate. The fact that it has increased at least indicates an increasing population whether the exact number is accurate or not.

              • avatar Immer Treue says:

                Logan,
                Same goes for elk, but the reciprocal.

              • avatar Louise Kane says:

                Why should we trust an estimate when this agency has proven itself to be so radical in its treatment of wolves. There is a great difference between and estimate and accurate count or a proven methodology. Nothing here gives me confidence that their “estimation” is proof of an increasing or stable wolf population. It does however, help them continue on there rampages against wolves.

    • avatar Ralph Maughan says:

      Gary Humbard,

      Although the wolf population estimate might be an underestimate, it is not a count.

      They have not attempted a total count since 2005.

      According to Idaho Fish and Game, “In 2006 we began using an estimation technique that has been peer reviewed by the University of Idaho and northern Rocky Mountain wolf managers. This technique relies on documented packs, mean or median pack size (mean or median of the sample pool of packs where pack counts are considered complete), number of wolves documented in small groups not considered packs, and an estimated percentage (12.5%; Mech and Boitani 2003, p. 170) of the population presumed to be lone wolves. The calculation uses a total count of wolves for those packs where we have a high degree of confidence that we observed all pack members, and applies the mean or median pack size to the remaining documented packs with incomplete counts. We use the statistical mean when number of packs with complete year-end counts is ≥20; otherwise median pack size is applied. Lastly, a multiplication factor of 1.125 is applied to account for lone wolves not associated with packs or smaller groups. Although this technique is feasible given the types of data we are able to collect, no measure of precision is available for this estimate. Mathematically this technique is represented as:
      (D + (P*M) + G)*L
      Where for 2014:
      D = 175 The number of wolves counted in documented packs with a complete count.
      P = 77 Documented packs without a complete count. Number of documented packs extant at the end of 2014 was 104, complete pack size counts were obtained for 27 of those, leaving 77 packs with absent or presumed incomplete counts.
      M = 6.5 Mean (or median) pack size.
      G = 9 Total count of wolves in radiocollared groups of 2-3 wolves that were not considered packs under Idaho’s definition.
      L = 1.125 Lone wolf factor. The midpoint value from a range derived from 5 peer-reviewed studies and 4 non-reviewed papers from studies that occurred in North America (Mech and Boitani 2003).
      Using this technique, 770 wolves were estimated in documented packs, documented groups, and lone wolves at the end of 2014.”

  2. avatar WM says:

    It seems a fairly aggressive effort is required to just keep wolf numbers plateaued between 700-800, let alone decrease the population to their minimum ESA obligation.

    So much for those who would lead us to believe they would go below the 150 or 15 breeding pairs and a connected meta-population any time soon.

    • avatar JB says:

      To your first point: Yes, precisely. Data generally indicates that, under most conditions, wolf populations can handle high (~35%) human mortality. However, we can’t assume that the conditions that exist in an average year will always exist (as Minnesota found out with their first harvest). To your second point, you I would suggest adding: “And so much for those who would lead us to believe that there are no elk left in the NRMs for wolves to eat–and hunters to hunt.”

      • avatar WM says:

        JB, I’ve been biting my tongue on the “no elk left in the NRM for wolves,” since our elk hunting last year was not so good. Could hear more wolves than elk bugle, and we went 1 elk for five hunters last year in 10 days of hard hunting in Central ID. Looking at the maps in the report, it appears we were in the middle of wolf central, with all the overlapping territory circles. I expect wolves got some young of the year, but I suspect their true impact on our inability to harvest more elk last year last year was elk behavior. On the other hand, those young of the year they got, won’t be a year older this year, either, which means there could be fewer out there.

        • avatar Ralph Maughan says:

          WM and JB,

          The new wolf report from Idaho and I, myself, likely drew too many conclusions because the population is not just an estimate,it is an estimate that very well might not be normally distributed. It might even be asymmetric. Please heed the warming from the report — “no measure of precision is available for this estimate.”

          What is the probability the true number of wolves is 200 more than their report, or 200 less? Can’t say.

        • avatar Immer Treue says:

          …we were in the middle of wolf central, with all the overlapping territory circles. I expect wolves got some young of the year, but I suspect their true impact on our inability to harvest more elk last year last year was elk behavior. …

          Elk behavior must be changing, as if it “is” wolf central, they’re eating something. And I’ll hazard a hues it’s not bunny rabbits and moles.

    • avatar Louise Kane says:

      Well WM sometime ago Ralph pointed out that if wolf hunting had not been taken up so readily in Idaho that he believed Idaho’s wolf population would have plateaued as did the MN population. Seems highly unlikely that after 20 years of living with wolves in Idaho if they had been left unperfected the tens of millions of acres of public lands that are contained in Idaho would suddenly have been over run with wolves. What has the unrelenting hunting done to the packs are they pairs? are they remnants on bigger packs, where is this increase (probably not in Lolo or Frank Church) Instead of living good lives they are killed and their families torn apart. I wonder if Idaho, Montana and WY left their wolves alone would we be seeing much better dispersal and healthy larger packs. Think territoriality when you get too tempted to make statements that fairly aggressive effort is needed to keep wolves in “control”

      • avatar Logan says:

        Without wolf hunting the population would certainly have plateaued…and then declined. This happened in yellowstone, the wolf population grew and ate out their prey base and started to drop. Inter-pack conflicts also contributed to the decline.

        I think that if left alone the wolf population would have peaked and then declined to a long term normal but ths would have also meant a lower elk population in the long term.

  3. avatar Gary Humbard says:

    I rarely generalize, but I notice a definite general negative theme on the Wildlife News comments and on many “conservation organization” websites. Here we have good news on wolf populations in Idaho and Wyoming and yet the ONLY comments so far are correcting my livestock numbers and dis-belief in Wyoming wolf numbers.

    Twenty years ago there were no wolves in Idaho, Wyoming, 95% of Montana, Washington and Oregon and today there are packs throughout the best and even marginal habitat of the first three states and in northeastern Washington and Oregon and are dispersing into western Oregon. You can drive to the Lamar Valley in Yellowstone NP any day of the year and see gray wolves. The return and continued dispersal of gray wolves to these areas are a huge accomplishment and should be celebrated!

    • avatar Professor Sweat says:

      Agreed Gary, I take this news as a good sign. Idaho wolf numbers are up and depredations are mostly down! I’m hoping this leads to more dispersers into ID’s neighboring states.

      • avatar Ed Loosli says:

        Prof. Sweat:
        Like you, many others in California are also hoping your wishes come true for wolf dispersal into Idaho’s neighboring states. However, some of the Idaho wolves that escaped to Oregon, instead of moving South into California where they would have been protected by law, unfortunately, they moved East back into Idaho and guess what? Within one week of returning to Idaho they have all been killed just inside the Idaho border – and these now dead wolves wore collars that had been put on by Oregon Fish & Wildlife.

        • avatar Professor Sweat says:

          Ed,

          I am aware of the sad endings individuals like OR5 and OR16 met once they crossed into ID. My optimism lies with new dispersers bringing continued vitality and fresh genetics to the comparatively small OR and WA populations.

          • avatar Louise Kane says:

            have yet to ever read one good reason for a public hunt of wolves.

            • avatar Professor Sweat says:

              There is no good reason, IMO.

            • avatar WM says:

              Some might suggest to control numbers of wolves in a specific management unit in concert with other wildlife management objectives. But, I am sure you would see that as a subjective view, with which you could not agree, because it wasn’t “good” enough for you. Yet, that was the agreement from the start of the re-introduction or re-population in the six, soon to be eight states with enough wolves for that to be a concern.

              Let me pose a different question, if you had ants in your kitchen, or moles in your yarde would there be a “good” reason to eliminate them from this location? Afterall, they are only doing what ants or moles do.

            • avatar Joanne Favazza says:

              Agreed, Louise. The only reason wolves are being indiscriminately shot, trapped, snared, etc. is to appease the livestock and huntng industries, and those who hold antiquated views of the Big Bad Wolf–as well as the politicians who exploit irrational fear and hatred of wolves in order to gain and maintain power.

    • avatar timz says:

      “You can drive to the Lamar Valley in Yellowstone NP any day of the year and see gray wolves.”

      no offense, but this is a bit of an exaggeration. Numbers in the Lamar Valley are way down, many shot wondering outside the park. They are not that easy to see there anymore.

      • avatar Gary Humbard says:

        No offense, but if you subscribe to “Yellowstone Reports” you will be able to read Laurie Lymans daily report on wolf sightings. I have read them daily for the last few years and ~95% of the reports have had at least one wolf sighting and most of the time at least two different pack sightings. The Lamar, Canyon, Junction Butte, Prospect Peak and Mollies are some of the packs they see each day. During the past two years I cannot recall any mention of hunters killing any of the pack members but other wolves have killed them.

        • avatar Professor Sweat says:

          832F, an alpha female of the Lamar Canyon pack, was killed in December of 2012 by a hunter outside of park boundaries. There have been others as well.

          • avatar Professor Sweat says:

            Apologies, I just re-read your post. For some reason I read “two years” as “few years.”

        • avatar timz says:

          When was the last time you were in the Lamar Valley wolf watching?

        • avatar skyrim says:

          Yes Gary, but Laurie and that crew are out looking every day and many of those from 1st light to dark. There is little doubt that wolves in Lamar and Little America are not seen in numbers and opportunities that they were in years past. Kathy Lynch’s reports have stated as much. Still likely the best possibilities in North America to see wolves however.

        • avatar timz says:

          “Recent kills by hunters in an area bordering Yellowstone National Park have biologists and wolf-watchers worried that the Lamar Canyon Pack has again been hit by wolf hunters in the area just outside the park. Five pack members killed.” Oct 2013

          I’ll mention it.

    • avatar Ida Lupines says:

      History does not support wolf acceptance. Suddenly, we are supposed to believe that the tide is turning? The population may be up, and depredations down – but when has that ever changed minds? The anti crowd won’t believe either. Wolf hating politicians are still at work, trying to delist, wasting money with wolf management boards.

      I don’t know if I’d call it a ‘return’ – without wolf advocates we wouldn’t have these marginal, holding-the-line victories. We are happy that as of now there are wolves, but the Sleazy Riders queued up in Congress could have other ideas. As it stands, the US gov’t is trying to delist nationally as well.

      Are collared wolves killed outside of park boundaries just not being reported?

    • avatar Marc Bedner says:

      I agree, Gary, that comments on this and other websites tend to be critical. I don’t see this as a bad thing, as generally comments are meant to balance out the initial article.

      For example, it’s good to see that Ralph updated the original article with a caveat from the Center for Biological Diversity to look critically at figures coming from what is euphemistically described as the “state of Idaho” i.e. the professional game managers working for the state game department. I wish the Center were more consistent in their defense of wolves, instead of supporting the recent HSUS proposal to remove endangered species protection.

      • avatar Ed Loosli says:

        Marc:
        The Center For Biological Diversity and HSUS along with many other of the most activist wildlife preservation organizations are NOT proposing to “remove endangered species protection” for wolves. What they are proposing is to continue protections of the gray wolves in the U.S. as a “threatened species” under the Endangered Species Act. — big difference.

        • avatar Marc Bedner says:

          I suppose the precise description of the proposal from HSUS et.al. would be that it proposes to remove the protection that the ESA affords to endangered species. I’m sceptical that threatened status would afford any meaningful protection.

          The ESA describes protection for threatened species as follows:
          “PROTECTIVE REGULATIONS.—Whenever any species is listed as a threatened species pursuant to subsection (c) of this section, the Secretary shall issue such regulations as he deems necessary and advisable to provide for the conservation of such species. The Secretary may by regulation prohibit with respect to any threatened species any act prohibited under section 9(a)(1), in the case of fish or wildlife, or section 9(a)(2), in the case of plants, with respect to endangered species; except that with respect to the taking of resident species of fish or wildlife, such regulations shall apply in any State which has entered into a cooperative agreement pursuant to section 6(c) of this Act only to the extent that such regulations have also been adopted by such State.”

          This seems to me to say that, in contrast to endangered species, which are protected by law (ESA section 9 prohibiting “taking”), it is up to the Secretary of the Interior to determine how much protection a threatened species would have, and any regulations could be vetoed by a state.

          I have no legal training, so perhaps any lawyer or paralegal reading this can tell me where I’m wrong.

          • avatar WM says:

            Mark,

            I am afraid your question is above my pay grade, without doing some research. However, you might consider that MN wolves were in “threatened” status under the ESA and have been since the very beginning, while MI and WI wolves were “endangered.” MN is not impressed with HSUS overtures.

            So, for MN the HSUS proposal is like giving them sleeves off of a vest – in other words they get nothing. It is a last ditch effort before HSUS gets a rider shoved down their throat, for their legal success in District Court in DC. Again, be careful what you wish for in litigation, you might not like the final result in a political world.- sometimes laws are changed in response to court decisions. At one time the federal government thought is was a good idea to prohibit the manufacturing, transport and sale of alcohol….well, that was then.

            • avatar WM says:

              sorry I seem not to spell properly these days,…Marc

            • avatar Marc Bedner says:

              WM, I’m concerned about wolves, not how people spell my name 🙂

              HSUS is aware of the Minnesota situation; their petition mentions it in a footnote:
              “43 Fed. Reg. 9607 (Mar. 9, 1978). Although the Service concluded that the Minnesota population represented the ‘eastern timber wolf’ subspecies (Canis lupis lycaon), it nonetheless designated the Minnesota population at only the species level. Because the authority to list species as ‘distinct population segments’ did not exist at the time of this action, the authority for the original split-species classification has remained unclear.”

              I still don’t trust HSUS to abandon any attempt at full protection for wolves as an endangered species. HSUS is already too close to Eastern state game departments (or departments of environmental or natural resources as they call themselves there) by helping them to find “humane” ways to reduce the “overpopulation” of deer. Now they are apparently looking for ways to collaborate with Western state game departments. HSUS is well beyond its depth on wildlife issues, which was never a primary focus for the organization. They are notorious for concerning themselves more about grabbing the media spotlight than actually helping animals. I wish that Biological Diversity and similar organizations who should know better would stop following in the footsteps of HSUS.

  4. avatar Ida Lupine says:

    I may have jumped too soon, but I worry that these reports will paint too optimistic a picture and justify expanded hunting numbers, seasons and methods. I worry that there’s no concern for animal welfare, only human needs. I don’t know that the mysterious approx. 25% more somewhere out there not accounted for.

    I think we should take the conservative approach. Goin too far cannot be undone. It dismays me to think that the mindset of for those shot another one is born to replace, without taking into account other variables, such as individual members valuable to pack survival, pups learning from adults.

    What are ‘other human causes’ anyway? Hit by car? Poaching?

  5. avatar Mareks Vilkins says:

    Idaho Year-End Wolf Population Declines 11% to 683. Livestock Losses Increase
    http://www.thewildlifenews.com/2013/04/02/idaho-year-end-wolf-population-declines-11-to-683-livestock-losses-increase/

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