Wolf News Roundup 1/29/2020
by Cat Urbigkit, Pinedale Online!
January 29, 2020
Idahoís wolf population
Idaho Fish and Game has a new estimate of the statewide wolf population through its new survey method using game cameras and mathematical modeling, which will be repeated annually and fine-tuned during the next few years.
At the Fish and Game Commission meeting on Jan. 23 in Boise, staff reported there were an estimated 1,541 wolves in the state during summer 2019. The estimate represents the peak population shortly after pups were born.
Fish and Game biologists have not estimated the statewide wolf population in Idaho since 2015. From 2006 to 2015, Fish and Gameís wolf monitoring program remained under federal oversight. During that time, the department maintained enough radio collared wolves to show there were more than 15 breeding pairs in the state and more than 150 total wolves. Those surveys were intended to show the wolf population exceeded targets needed to remove them from federal protection and oversight.
Biologists cautioned that comparing the 2015 estimate of 786 (reported in early 2016) to the current estimate would be misleading because previous estimates were based on different methods and represented winter counts when the population was closer to its lowest point of the year.
Annual wolf mortality ramps up during late summer, fall, and into winter with hunting and trapping seasons, along with management actions to remove wolves that prey on livestock. Natural mortality is also a factor.
After completion of the camera survey, there were 327 wolves known to have been killed through hunting, trapping, management actions, and other human causes. Researchers were also able to estimate that an additional 208 wolves died of natural causes based on previous research. These mortalities were not reflected in 1,541 population estimate.
How the population estimate was generated
During the spring and early summer of 2019, Idaho Fish and Game staff deployed 569 cameras specifically for estimating wolf abundance, which took about 11 million photos over the course of a few months. Of the 569 cameras, 259 of them detected wolves.
Aided by recognition software to rapidly determine photos of animals, wildlife technicians identified species of animals in the photos and biologists and university scientists applied mathematical modeling to produce the wolf population estimate. The wolf monitoring is part of a larger statewide project using game cameras to estimate populations for a variety of species. Recent monitoring of deer populations in Southeast Idaho using game cameras while simultaneously using traditional aerial surveys produced almost identical results, which showed wildlife managers they could get valid population estimates for certain species using the camera method.
The method of estimating wildlife populations using remote cameras is a new innovation. As time goes on, the modeling will continue to be refined as biologists use this technique to generate annual population estimates. Going forward, they will also have a better baseline for comparing populations from year to year.
During their meeting in Boise on Jan. 23, the Idaho Fish and Game Commission voted to increase the maximum number of wolf tags an individual can purchase to 15 hunting tags and 15 trapping tags for the 2020-21 season.
The changes to the allowable tag numbers for wolves applies statewide, simplifying the wolf hunting and trapping seasons and rules.
While these changes take effect immediately, hunters and trappers should note that they will not be reflected in the current edition of the Idaho Big Game 2019-20 Seasons and Rules brochure, but will be updated online and later in print.
Hunting harvest rates on gray wolves are generally very low. In 2019, more than 45,000 wolf tags were sold in Idaho, and hunters harvested 188 wolves ó a success rate of 0.4 percent.
Success rates tend to be slightly higher for trapping, and trappers harvested more wolves (200) than hunters did in 2019. There were only five people in Idaho in 2019 who harvested more than 10 wolves each, which included hunting and trapping. Prior to the change, the statewide hunter harvest limit was five wolves per calendar year, and hunters could take an additional five wolves in the Panhandle, Clearwater, Upper Snake, and Salmon regions.
The statewide trapper harvest limit was also five wolves per trapping season, and an additional five wolves could be trapped in the Panhandle, Clearwater, Upper Snake, and Salmon regions.
A state legislator in Idaho is proposing to allow for "chronic depredation" and "wolf-free" zones where wolves could be hunted year-round, according to the Post Register.
Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) officials are confirming they have additional evidence that a group of wolves is now residing in northwest Colorado.
On Jan. 19, CPW wildlife officers investigated the discovery of an animal carcass surrounded by large wolf-like tracks in the northwest corner of Moffat County. While conducting their investigation in the field, they made an attempt to locate the wolves. In their search, they heard distinct howls in the area. Officers used binoculars to observe approximately six wolves about two miles from the location of the carcass.
"This is a historic sighting. While lone wolves have visited our state periodically including last fall, this is very likely the first pack to call our state home since the 1930s. I am honored to welcome our canine friends back to Colorado after their long absence," said Governor Jared Polis. "Itís important that Coloradans understand that the gray wolf is under the protection of the Endangered Species Act. While the animals have naturally migrated to our state and their presence draws public interest, itís important that people give them space. Due to their Protected status, there are severe federal penalties for anyone that intentionally harms or kills wolves in our state."
"Right after our two officers heard the howls from the wolves, they used binoculars to observe approximately six wolves about two miles from the location of the carcass," said JT Romatzke, Northwest Region Manager for CPW. "After watching them for about 20 minutes, the officers rode in to get a closer look. The wolves were gone but they found plenty of large tracks in the area."
According to the officers, the tracks measured approximately 4.5 to 5.5 inches and appear to have been made by at least six animals.
The Mercury News has noted that there is a $7,500 reward offered for information about a wolf that was shot and killed in rural northern California. The adult male wolf was born in Oregon and tracked as it moved into California, only to be found dead last year. Wolves in California are a protected species under both state and federal laws. The article provides some detail of the impact of the stateís expanding wolf population on livestock producers in the region.
The wolf population in Oregon is expanding into new territory, according to the Willamette Week. A man captured a series of images of a wolf on game cameras set up on Bureau of Land Management-administered lands in southern Oregon, providing the first confirmation of wolf presence in the area west of Highway 62.
Check out the links below for details on these stories.