FWP Wolf report shows stable population numbers through 2021
August 10, 2022
Wolf numbers and distribution continue to be stable across Montana, according to numbers released Monday in the 2021 Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks Wolf Report.
"What the data shows us really isn't surprising," said FWP Director Hank Worsech. "Our management of wolves, including ample hunting and trapping opportunities, have kept numbers at a relatively stable level during the past several years."
In understanding this report, people must keep in mind that population trends are monitored by the calendar year, in this case 2021, which is consistent with how FWP and other agencies have tracked wolf populations since the 1980s and how wolf populations are tracked in other areas. However, the wolf hunting and trapping season ended March 15, 2022. The harvest realized during this first three months of 2022 isn't reflected in the 2021 wolf population estimate.
Another interesting aspect of the data is that wolf trapping efforts were down this license year from past years. This means fewer trappers were on the landscape. Potential reasons for this include unfavorable weather conditions during the trapping season.
The 2021 Montana Legislature approved a suite of legislation that added more tools for hunters and trappers for harvesting wolves. The legislature also passed legislation directing FWP to manage wolves in a manner that would reduce numbers to a sustainable level above minimum recovery goals.
In response, the Fish and Wildlife Commission increased bag limits, allowed snaring outside of lynx protection zones, and extended the season. Additionally, the commission also set harvest threshold numbers in each FWP region and at a statewide scale that required them to reconvene if those harvest levels were met. Ultimately, the commission closed wolf season in southwest Montana early because the pre-established threshold was met.
"We are following the law," Worsech said. "And are doing so in a way that provides certainty that wolf populations in Montana will remain off the Endangered Species List."
By the numbers
The estimated wolf population in Montana at the end of 2021 is 1,141. This is down 40 wolves from 1,181 in 2020. This is not a statistically significant difference. In the last 10 years, wolf populations saw an estimated high of 1,256 in 2011 and a low of 1,113 in 2017. The small difference in these two numbers demonstrates a population trend that is very stable.
At the end of 2021, Montana had an estimated 192 wolf packs. This is down from an estimated 198 in 2020. In the last 10 years, estimated pack numbers have fluctuated from a high of 205 in 2012 to a low of 186 in 2017.
FWP employed new population estimation methodology in 2007, called integrated patch occupancy model (iPOM). This methodology has undergone a scientific peer review both of its individual components and the cumulative process as a whole.
iPOM pulls together a variety of different sources of data, including information from FWP biologists, to produce population and distribution estimates.
Another important source of data come from hunter harvest surveys that are conducted by FWP every year. These surveys ask deer and elk hunters if they saw wolves while hunting and, if so, where. These surveys are done after hunting season and are necessary to make an accurate estimate.