Wildlife Conservation Science & Policy

Dedicated to the social and political aspects–the so-called "human dimensions"–of wildlife management

Daily Archives: April 22, 2011

Wolf population growth stagnates…will the rhetoric?

The image (above) shows (a) wolf populations, (b) confirmed domestic animal depredations (including livestock), and (c) the number of wolves legally killed (i.e., either via legal hunting or control) in Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming from 1987 to 2010.  These data were aggregated from the USFWS’s 2010 report, which you can find here.

Despite predictions of continued growth, these data show a leveling off in wolf populations in these three states in the most recent 4 years.  A closer examination reveals that while initially population growth was substantial, it has steadily decreased in recent years.  In the first 5 years post reintroduction (1996-2000), the average annual wolf population growth was 34%, in the next five years (2001-2005) it was 27%; in the most recent five years (2006-2010), it was just 11%; and in the last three years it was 3%.  This isn’t surprising given the fact that reintroduced wolves found unoccupied habitat full of elk that were unaccustomed to the predator.  However, as the habitat has filled in, population growth has slowed, despite the dire predictions of some.  Could wolves be reaching their carrying capacity in the Northern Rocky Mountains?  Who knows.  The more interesting question is: will the rhetoric of western politicians be toned down now with wolves delisted and populations stabilizing?