Wolf Mismanagement Opening Door To Chronic Wasting Disease
Known for their resiliency, gray wolves thwarted attempts by wildlife managers to cut their numbers by about five percent last year, a new report shows. Instead, wolf numbers in Wyoming’s jurisdiction swelled by about five percent last year, increasing by an estimated 13 animals to 199 wolves running in 30 packs. Including Yellowstone National Park and the Wind River Indian reservation — where wolves are managed separately — the population stood at a minimum of 306 wolves as the year ended.
The figures come from the Wyoming Game and Fish Department’s 2013 gray wolf report, which was released Friday. Two factors that contributed to the higher-than-expected wolf population was better success producing and rearing pups and a decline in the number of wolves killed by people, Game and Fish wolf program biologist Ken Mills said.
“Part of what happened is that not as many wolves died from non-hunting, human-caused mortality,” Mills said.
That includes animals killed via “control actions” after killing livestock and from being hit by vehicles, he said.
Wyoming managers don’t count every wolf pup, Mills said, but indications are that more are reaching adulthood. That’s related to hunting pressure, which can cause an increase in reproduction. Mills pointed to Montana and Idaho — which also released their wolf reports Friday — as an example.
“They’re killing a lot of wolves,” he said, “and they’re either slightly decreasing the population or they’ve just managed to stabilize it.”
Montana killed 627 wolves last year and Idaho killed 659 wolves. The human-caused wolf mortality rate in Wyoming (24 percent) was much lower than in Montana (35 percent) and Idaho (41 percent). Now 1 1/2 years past federal protection in Wyoming, wolf numbers have been relatively stable.
There were estimated to be 328 wolves in the state at the end of 2011, and 277 animals at the end of 2012. That rose to 306 at the end of 2013. Overall wolf numbers and breeding pairs have stayed well above the state’s delisting requirement.
“The goal as always is to manage a sustainable, recovered population of wolves in Wyoming,” Mills said. “We’re at almost double the population that we’re required to manage, and we had a known minimum of 15 breeding pairs, which is 50 percent above what’s required.”
Yellowstone National Park’s wolf population increased 14 percent to 195 in 2013. Even in Wyoming’s predator zone — where wolves can be killed at any time, by any method and without a license — the count increased from 17 to 20. The zone makes up 85 percent of the state. Including the predator zone, wolves killed by hunting was mostly unchanged between 2013 as in 2012. Hunter-killed wolves fell from 66 to 63.
The number of wolf hunting licenses sold fell by more than half in the second year of hunting, from about 4,500 to 2,150.
Wyoming’s wolves got into relatively little trouble with livestock and dogs last year compared to 2012, the report shows. They were confirmed to have killed 33 calves, seven cows, 33 sheep, a dog and a goat. Wolves injured another six cattle, two sheep and a horse, domestic bison and another dog.
Game and Fish will come out with its proposed wolf hunting quotas for the 2014 season in late April, Mills said. A “season setting” meeting in Jackson is set for May 7.
“Part of our job is predicting what will happen, and that’s a very difficult thing,” Mills said. “It’s always interesting to measure predictions against what actually happens, and learn from it and apply it to the next year.”