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Northern Rockies gray wolf populations held steady in 2009, biologists say

Gray wolf

BILLINGS, Mont. — A new tally of gray wolves in the Northern Rockies shows the population held steady across the region in 2009, ending more than a decade of expansion by the predators but also underscoring their resilience in the face of new hunting seasons in Montana and Idaho.

Biologists said the region's total wolf population has remained stable and will be similar to 2008's minimum of 1,650 wolves in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming.

The number of breeding packs increased slightly, from 95 to 111. That's despite more than 500 wolves killed last year, primarily by hunters and government wildlife agents responding to livestock attacks.

If the preliminary figures hold, it could bolster the federal government's assertion that wolves are doing fine since losing Endangered Species Act protections last year.

The exception is Wyoming, where state law is considered hostile to the species' survival and federal protections remain in force. The state has challenged the decision to keep wolves under federal protection in Wyoming, and a federal court hearing in that case is set for Friday in Cheyenne.

The latest population data was released Thursday in court documents filed by Montana wildlife officials in a separate case brought by environmentalists. They are seeking to overturn the loss of protections for wolves in Montana and Idaho.

The environmentalists suggest current population figures are not a fair indicator of the animal's long-term survival, because the states could drive down their numbers over time with no ramifications.

The 2009 results show Montana's wolf population dipped slightly, from 497 in 2008 to 493. In comparison, Wyoming's population grew from 302 to at least 319.

A precise estimate for Idaho was not made available, but the state said it expects a figure "comparable" to 2008's population of 846 wolves. Idaho reported its number of breeding packs of wolves increased from 39 in 2008 to 50 last year.

"This puts a few things to rest, first and foremost that hunting was going to hurt the population," said Montana's lead gray wolf biologist, Carolyn Sime.

Sime added that by maintaining the status quo for wolves in Montana, wildlife officials demonstrated hunting is an effective way to manage the population and keep it in check.

Ranchers across the Northern Rockies have complained in recent years that the wolf population had grown out of control, causing widespread harm to their cattle and sheep herds.

Some have recommended bringing back poisoning as a way to drastically reduce the population. Last used in the early 1900s, poison helped wipe out wolves across most of the Lower 48 states by the 1930s.

It wasn't until the 1980s that a handful of wolves from Canada began to take up residence in northern Montana. Their numbers exploded following the reintroduction of 66 wolves by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service into central Idaho and Wyoming's Yellowstone National Park.

Until 2009, the population had been on a sharp upward trend, at times increasing 30 percent in a single year. Whether it starts to dip as hunting continues remains to be seen.

Under pressure from the ranching industry, Montana wildlife officials already have floated a possible hunting quota increase for the 2010 season. Last year's quota was 75 wolves.

Idaho's season was recently extended to give hunters more time to fill its quota of 220.

Whether future hunts can occur hinges on U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy in Missoula, who is hearing the environmentalists' suit. Molloy's ruling is not expected for several months.

-- Associated Press

Photo: A gray wolf in Yellowstone National Park in 2003. Credit: William Campbell / Associated Press

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What a crock! Here the government goes with trying to feed us this B.S propaganda that the wolf populations held steady despite the fact those redneck scumbags killed a third of their whole population! I just want to put my fist in something over B.S propaganda like this! The wolves better get their protections back! The only reason why they were delisted and hunted was just to cater to special hunting and ranching interests and nothing else! I am sick of seeing images of the freaks posing with the lifeless bodies of the animals they killed and the fact that these freaks are still allowed to dictate wildlife policy over the rest of us despite the fact they make up only 5% of the public at large. If you ask me, all recreational hunting needs to be banned outright!

We have too many wolves for the habitat to support. Wolves have expanded outside of the wilderness and are encroaching into rural towns. This first wolf hunt proves that wolves will not be "slaughtered" and the population is growing.

Obviously folks who don't live with wolves do not understand the impacts on rural communities. Not only depredation on ranchers, but by attacking and killing pets. Children have been stalked at bus stops, wolves have come into people's yards and killed pets despite the presence of humans.

Wolves are easily habituated (no wonder we were able to domesticate them to become our companion animals.)

Its unfortunate that the propaganda put out by pro-wolf organizations have fooled so many city people into thinking they are big fuzzy puppies.

TLM, folks like you forget one very important factor. Context is key.

For you to say that there are too many wolves for the habitat to support is misleading; what you mean to say is that there are too many wolves for the ranching economy to support. If you were truly keeping your argument within the context of what the habitat could support, then you would allow the habitat to sustain/control/deplete wolf numbers naturally and there would not have to be hunt quotas issued under the false pretense of "management."

The important context to remember is that the wolves were here first, and the only reason why property, whether owned or leased, is seen as suitable grazing land to the rancher to begin with is because the wolves were wiped out for the rancher's, and ranching industry's, own purposes. Wolves are not encroaching into rural areas, they are taking their original habitat back from those who set up house in their territory. Humans in rural areas are living in wolf, grizzly, cougar, lynx, wolverine territory - not the other way around. To think otherwise is a negligent omission of context, and to then purport to "worry" about habitat is disingenuous and just basically fraudulent.

Be more authentic and put the human back into nature. Take the human ego out of this context, bring the human spirit back into the mix, and then we have the ability to cooperate with nature, all of it, and not expect to bend nature around to our own singular purposes. If you can't take the heat of living with wolves, which are just as valid a life form as humans, you have no business there. Living in nature means having the maturity, the conscientiousness, and the responsibility to know how to live with nature; and that means living with other predators that have as much right to their food source as humans do.

The mindset that tells you that humans are the be-all-end-all rulers just because they have opposable thumbs and can hold a rifle just shows you how outside of nature you really are. When we take ourselves outside of the web of nature, we take ourselves outside the solutions.

Oh, and btw, you are so wrong about wolves being able to be domesticated to become "companion" animals, and that's the reason people are seeing them in their yards. Bah! Wolves are pack animals and the advantage of a pack is to obtain safety and the success rate of procuring food. Wolves accepting food from humans does not make them domesticated. Wolves kept in large pens are not domesticated. Wolf-hybrids have a very low success rate of full domesticity exactly because their wild predator instinct can so rarely be successfully bred out, and thus they cannot be 100% trusted.

Those wolves who enter people's yards, in the presence of humans and their dogs, are not becoming domesticated, they are losing their fear of humans - and there is a big, big difference. Just ask those folks in Boulder, CO about the cougar problem they encountered because the cats there lost their fear of humans, and they will tell you "companion" was not the word for those predators.

So get your facts straight.

Folks who live in an area with active wolf populations need to adjust to the reality of the context in which they live. You may accuse pro-wolfers of thinking the animals are just "fuzzy puppies," but you guys come across as spoiled children whining that your "nature" isn't supposed have teeth and be hungry.

Justin, so you are the 95% of people i assume. Just a quick question? What do you contribute to help wildlife and the great outdoors we still have today? Wildlife agencies and organizations run on hunting licenses, fishing licenses, tag money, donations and these hunters time in conserving all the animals, including wolves, and saving land from development so our generation and our childrens generations have something to enjoy. The wildlife agencies dictate on how many deer and elk can be harvested every year, and do a very good job. So why shouldnt they dictate how many wolves the state can harvest every year?

Obviously you dont care because you want to ban all hunting. But if you dont live in montana or any other state that has problems with these wolves, and dont have to deal with them first hand, dont worry about the wolf. They are here to stay,people wont get the right to exterminate the wolf with only 5% voting rights. But they should be managed.

if the wolf population grows by 13 and you kill 185 of them does the population go up or down????
it goes down
13-185=-172 or -185+13=-172
so the population decrease


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