In Montana wolf numbers and distribution continue to be stable across Montana, according to numbers released Monday in the 2021 Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks Wolf Report.
In understanding this report, people must keep in mind that population trends are monitored by the calendar year, in this case 2021, which is consistent with how FWP and other agencies have tracked wolf populations since the 1980s and how wolf populations are tracked in other areas. However, the wolf hunting and trapping season ended March 15, 2022. The harvest realized during this first three months of 2022 isn’t reflected in the 2021 wolf population estimate.
Another interesting aspect of the data is that wolf trapping efforts were down this license year from past years. This means fewer trappers were on the landscape. Potential reasons for this include unfavorable weather conditions during the trapping season.
The 2021 Montana Legislature approved a suite of legislation that added more tools for hunters and trappers for harvesting wolves. The legislature also passed legislation directing FWP to manage wolves in a manner that would reduce numbers to a sustainable level above minimum recovery goals.
In response, the Fish and Wildlife Commission increased bag limits, allowed snaring outside of lynx protection zones, and extended the season. Additionally, the commission also set harvest threshold numbers in each FWP region and at a statewide scale that required them to reconvene if those harvest levels were met. Ultimately, the commission closed wolf season in southwest Montana early because the pre-established threshold was met.
“We are following the law,” Worsech said. “And are doing so in a way that provides certainty that wolf populations in Montana will remain off the Endangered Species List.”
By the numbers:
The estimated wolf population in Montana at the end of 2021 is 1,141. This is down 40 wolves from 1,181 in 2020. This is not a statistically significant difference. In the last 10 years, wolf populations saw an estimated high of 1,256 in 2011 and a low of 1,113 in 2017. The small difference in these two numbers demonstrates a population trend that is very stable.
At the end of 2021, Montana had an estimated 192 wolf packs. This is down from an estimated 198 in 2020. In the last 10 years, estimated pack numbers have fluctuated from a high of 205 in 2012 to a low of 186 in 2017.
Most U.S. wolves outside of Alaska may be removed from the protection of the Endangered Species Act. Here are 10 frequently asked questions about the proposal, and information on how you can comment.
PRO: Wolves are recovered, according to biological standards, with a population of at least 6,100 in many areas of the contiguous 48 U.S. where there is enough wild prey, good habitat and minimum road- and human-density. Their population has been stable or increasing for several years and is contiguous with the Canadian population of about 60,000 and Alaska’s 8,000-10,000.
CON: One school of thought holds the following view: The USFWS’s portrayal of recovery disregards the full definition for threatened (any species likely to become endangered within the foreseeable future throughout all or a significant portion of its range) and endangered (any species likely to become extinct within the foreseeable future throughout all or a significant portion of its range) species. The USFWS perspective does not meet the 1973 regulations (amended from legal antecedents in 1966 and 1969). The Service cannot ignore the geographic component of recovery. Moreover, the FWS cannot implement the Act in a manner consistent with Congressional intent and previous agency action by equating “its range” with “its current range”. “Its range” has to equate with “its historical range” for the ESA to have the broad sweeping impact intended by Congress and for previous agency actions to have relevance to future agency actions. Otherwise, there would be no recovery program for the black-footed ferret, California condor, red wolf, and Mexican wolf, to name just a few species that existed only in captivity and therefore had no current range prior to ESA-authorized reintroduction programs.
PRO: Delisting will help states without wolves, in that if wolves recolonize those states, they can be managed like other species without special federal regulations.
CON: The nationwide delisting would make it less likely that wolves will repopulate, on their own, parts of Colorado, Utah, Nevada, and New England. In particular, suitable high-quality habitat is abundant in the Southern Rockies Ecoregion.
PRO: Delisting wolves would prove that the ESA works, making Congress less likely to amend or repeal it.
CON: One cannot say that the ESA works if it embraces a simplistic perspective of success and does not meet its own stated criterion for recovery of a species.
PRO: As management for wolves passes to the states, wolves will still be protected so that their populations never dip below the numbers set in the USFWS’s recovery plans.
CON: Where states have assumed management of wolves they have instituted or plan controversial (although sustainable and regulated) recreational hunting and trapping seasons, that, for animal protectionists, seem to subvert the whole purpose of past wolf recovery efforts.
PRO: Scarce federal funds that would have been used for continued wolf recovery can now be allocated for many lesser-known endangered species on a lengthy waiting list.
I honestly can't conform that there's still animal hunting.