At least measuring by federal expectations, wolves are doing well in Wyoming, and have been for more than two decades.
As of the end of 2022, the state’s wolf population has exceeded the minimum criteria for federally-set recovery standards for the last 21 years, according to an annual report from the Wyoming Game and Fish Department and serval other wildlife management agencies.
By The Numbers
At the end of last year, there were at least 338 wolves in Wyoming, according to the report. That includes 41 packs across the state, but mostly concentrated in northwest Wyoming.
There were an estimated 108 wolves in Yellowstone Park and 163 in the adjacent trophy game management area, and 18 on the Wind River Reservation. There were 49 wolves reported elsewhere in Wyoming.
Wyoming, Montana and Idaho are each expected to keep at least 150 wolves and 15 breeding pairs to maintain minimum recovery standards. Game and Fish agreed to maintain at least 100 wolves and 10 breeding pairs in the trophy game management area.
Yellowstone Park and the Wind River Reservation are expected to maintain a combined total minimum of 50 wolves, including five breeding pairs, according to the report.
Wyoming has exceeded those expectations because wolves are well-managed here and breed quickly, Game and Fish Large Carnivore Specialist Dan Thompson told Cowboy State Daily.
“Once wolves are established in an area, they can be quite prolific and regulatory mechanisms that have been in place throughout the northern Rocky Mountains since they were brought back to Yellowstone and Idaho have ensured that recovery,” he said.
It’s unlikely wolves will establish themselves in large numbers across Wyoming outside of their current range, Thompson added.
“We have not noted significant changes in wolf presence and movement patterns outside northwest Wyoming,” he said.
Different Tiers Of Protection
Wolves in Wyoming are under varying degree of protection according to location.
Within Yellowstone Park, they remain fully protected and may not be killed. In the trophy game management area, they may be hunted during designated seasons. Wolf hunters in that area must have hunting tags, and wolves may be killed only until a “mortality limit” is met or until the last day of hunting season in each hunt area, whichever comes first.
Outside of the trophy game management area, or roughly 85 % of Wyoming, wolves are considered a predatory species and may be killed on sight at any time, without a hunting tag or any bag limits.
Full Limits Not Met During Hunts
Game and Fish set a combined mortality limit of 47 wolves for the 2022 hunting seasons, according to the report. Hunters killed 31 wolves during the regular seasons.
Two more wolves were killed early in the year during an extension of the 2021 hunting season in one hunt area, bringing the total killed by hunters in 2022 to 33.
Wolf conservation in the trophy game area doesn’t hinge on killing the full limits, said Ken Mills, a Game and Fish large carnivore biologists who focuses on wolf management.
“They are limits rather than quotas, so we are able to maintain our objectives without needing to fill those limits. That being said, we continue to adapt our management and use the data we obtain to better manage wolves,” Mills told Cowboy State Daily.
Wolves are a savvy quarry, he added.
“Wolves have behaviorally adjusted to hunting and hunter effort has also changed; we incorporate this, and all empirical data collected into our overall wolf management program,” he said.
Wolf hunts are closely watched by various interest groups, Mills added.
“There is intense scrutiny on wolf management, from diametrically opposing viewpoints and belief systems, so we need to justify our management strategies and harvest limits with data to make things fairly irrefutable,” he said.
Damage To Livestock
When it came to conflict with ranchers, wolves killed nearly 100 livestock animals during 2022, according to the report.
There were 97 confirmed wolf kills on livestock, including 46 cattle, 46 sheep and five horses, the reports states.
Wyoming’s wolf population should remain stable, Thompson said.
“After being transplanted, wolf populations recovered quickly in the northern Rocky Mountains, reaching the recovery criteria set by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service by 2002 and have remained above recovery criteria since,” he said. “Our goal is to manage wolves in a manner that ensures the population will continue to remain recovered while alleviating conflicts caused by wolves.”
Mark Heinz can be reached at Mark@CowboyStateDaily.com