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Wolves: Greater Yellowstone wolf numbers hold steady

Latest News: The numbers for 2013 are out, and they bode well for Yellowstone wolves. Numbers have increased slightly in Wyoming, held steady in Montana and decreased in Idaho, where they state is aggressively trying to reduce the population. About 1,700 wolves still roam the Northern Rockies, including 440 in Greater Yellowstone.

The over-arching message: Wolves are resilient and they are here to stay. 

Montana counted 627 wolves -- two more than in 2012. Wyoming has about 200 in 30 packs, almost all in Greater Yellowstone, where the hunting quota was cut in half in 2013.

More good news: Livestock depredation was down 27 percent in Montana.

This all comes on the heels of an earlier Yellowstone Wolf Project report that no collared wolves that frequent the park were taken by hunters this past fall. Project officials reported that Yellowstone now has 86 wolves and had its best pup season yet.

Overview:  Nearly 1,700 wolves roam the Northern Rockies, in 250 packs with more than 110 breeding pairs. Nearly 500 call Greater Yellowstone home and more than 80 wolves live within Yellowstone National Park.

GYC continues to monitor wolf numbers in Greater Yellowstone. Meanwhile, Yellowstone wolves are still playing their ecological role.

A report from Oregon State University plant researchers William J. Ripple and Bob Beschta reinforces the belief that the wolf has been the primary factor in the improved health of aspen, willow, and cottonwood trees in Yellowstone National Park's Northern Range. This in turn has benefitted such Yellowstone wildlife as beaver, bison, pronghorn, songbirds, raptors, and trout.

The return of the wolf has changed elk behavior and reduced some herds, but overall numbers remain strong in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming. According to Yellowstone biologist Doug Smith, the Yellowstone herds remain healthy despite its smaller size. The number is more in line with historic levels since wolves were reintroduced and grizzly bears and mountain lions returned naturally. Overall elk populations in the states of Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming remain healthy. However, elk populations are now more dynamic with the return of large carnivores and elk distribution has shifted to areas of refugia which make them more difficult to hunt.  Elk populations are affected by many variables including weather, disease, predation, and human mortality.

Project Goals: The Greater Yellowstone Coalition has consistently worked to find the middle ground on wolf management, to move beyond the ongoing conflicts. We will continue to promote science-based management and increased tolerance for this iconic animal in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.

Photo: Cindy Goeddel Photography.

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  • When wolf restoration in the Northern Rockies began in 1995, the hope was for a population of 300; today, there are almost 1,700 in the region.
  • The restoration of the gray wolf to Yellowstone has contributed to the recovery of such flora as aspen, willow, cottonwood and berry bushes in the Lamar Valley, as well as enhancing habitat for beaver, trout, grizzly bears and other wildlife.

Chris Colligan, Wildlife Program Manager