Wolf pack numbers in the Blackfoot River watershed northeast of Missoula have grown from one in 2007 to at least a dozen this year.

But wildlife officials hope the experience adapting to wolves in the Bitterroot Valley to the south may produce a different outcome for other wildlife.

“I know people are really concerned about the wolf numbers,” Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Seeley Lake biologist Jay Kolbe said of the population increase. “But they also know we have a more diverse predator population here. We have historic numbers of grizzly bears, and black bears, coyotes and lions here, too. And we’ve had a more integrated broad response.”

After seeing elk herds suffer in the Bitterroot and lower Clark Fork drainages over the past five years, FWP game managers cut back the antlerless elk harvest in the Blackfoot to boost cow and calf survival there. Elk numbers are slightly below or at annual objective levels in nine of the 10 hunting districts in the Blackfoot region. The last district, covering lots of private ranchland around Helmville, is over objective.

Hunting seasons for black bears and mountain lions also were adjusted upward to avoid creating a “predator pit” where too many carnivores are chasing a dwindling number of ungulates.

Despite the upswing in wolf numbers, Blackfoot ranchers have seen little impact on their livestock. Blackfoot Challenge wildlife committee coordinator Seth Wilson said there’ve been only a handful of probable wolf depredations, and no confirmed incidents in 2013.

“We’ve confirmed over the last five years less than four wolf kills per year on an 800,000-acre area,” Wilson said. “That’s about 35 ranches. We’re certainly seeing wolves, tracking them, but the good news is we have not seen a concurrent rise in livestock depredations to wolves over that period. It’s not having an economic impact on ranches.”

Wilson credited the Blackfoot Challenge’s wolf rider program, which employs a trained wolf spotter roaming daily among ranch pastures watching for predator activity. The wolf rider helps set up electric fences around calving areas, strings fladry flag lines around grazing areas, and quickly removes carcasses from accidental deaths or predator attacks so other bears or wolves don’t hang around to scavenge the leftovers.

“We haven’t done any active hazing this season,” Wilson said, “but we believe having a human presence out there can deter a wolf.”

According to FWP wolf biologist Liz Bradley, Blackfoot wolf numbers expanded steadily until 2010, when they leveled out. Surveys now indicate between 50 and 60 wolves in the region, while the number of packs went from nine in 2010 to perhaps 13 in 2013.

Bradley said that may reflect hunting pressure on wolves, which are running in slightly smaller packs than in previous years. The average size has dropped from seven animals to around five or six. That could be good, because larger packs often get in trouble preying on domestic livestock.

The Bitterroot Valley recorded 12 wolf packs in 2007 and 13 in 2012. The Mineral County area west of Missoula had seven packs in 2007 and at least 13 this year.

Hunters have killed five wolves in the two wolf hunting districts comprising the Missoula and Blackfoot valleys this season. They’ve shot another eight in the remainder of Region 2, which covers most of west-central Montana.

For the entire state, the take is 46 wolves this fall. The majority of wolves are killed by hunters seeking other game, such as deer or elk.

“Hunters are seeing a lot of wolves, and lots of them don’t have (wolf) licenses,” Kolbe said. “They’re a little upset with themselves. But it’s eye-opening how many are out there.”

Reporter Rob Chaney can be reached at 523-5382 or at rchaney@missoulian.com.

More from missoulian.com

(31) comments

Idaho_Roper
Idaho_Roper

It is very obvious that looking to the people whom caused the problem to solve the problem is futile. the people who conducted wolf introduction had no issues with violating the law, they had no problem manipulating their so called 'science' and they have and still lie at will to try and cover up the truth and impact of these vermin.

At some point a few years ago, civil disobedience became very appropriate. Just take care of business, wolves are not true game animals they are varmints.

If you hear of someone being prosecuted under these inappropriate wolf laws, volunteer for jury duty and utilize jury nullification to make sure their appropriate actions are not made into a crime.

There is a way to win this war, but it is not waiting for the creator of it to solve it.

DavidStalling
DavidStalling

TURN IN POACHERS: Wolves are now managed by the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks and there is a legal hunting season with a bag limit. It's disturbing how many so-called "hunters" advocate poaching; real hunters don't poach. Hunters and others who hear of poachers killing wolves or any wildlife out of season, or without a tag, or exceeding their limit (or violating any of our fish and game regulations) should call the toll-free TIP-MONT Hotline at 1-800-TIP-MONT (800-847-6668) and report it.

Jacob
Jacob

Walter you are a fool.

Bittersweet
Bittersweet

".......Trapping is a lucrative career. I know a guy in Idaho who traps. In 2 1/2 months he made close to $45K trapping bobcats. Other than drug dealers, there is hardly any profession that you can make that much money in that short of time. It isn't "easy work"."

........

I know several trappers that do quite well overall, just not enough to pay expenses on wolves in Montana. I do know a couple in AK that do ok on wolves. Bobcats, sometimes muskrats or Beaver in MT, yes. Wolves....surely not lucrative. This I know.

smw1
smw1

I want to correct a misquote from this article that suggests that I said, “...wolves had no economic impacts on ranchers.”

What I said was that we are lucky that we have had relatively low losses to wolves while the population has increased and that we’ve worked hard to reduce problems with a suite of tools. I also indicated that the economic impacts from direct losses to wolves have been fairly low. This is different than suggesting that there is no impact. Wolves do have economic impacts on ranchers. I would never suggest otherwise and have always been well aware that wolves have both direct (confirmed livestock losses or injury) and indirect economic impacts (lower weights or lower conception rates) on livestock producers.

Zoron
Zoron

I see California is well represented here. Bloated numbers of wolves have decimated numbers of game animals (elk, deer, sheep, moose) throughout the west and now Midwest. That, is well documented. A pathetically limited season and shooting them on sight is not nearly enough. We must go the way Wyoming is handling the problem and deem them a predator with no more protection than a coyote or skunk. Trap at will and shoot on sight. No tag needed. At least until numbers are under control which we are eons away from. As it is, the damage they have done will take a DECADE or more to fix in terms of game herds. There have always been other predators as in coyotes, bear, and cats. Yes, we need to thin their numbers too. But now add bloated numbers of these parasite infested varmints and it is no longer worth hunting in areas they infest. The HUMAN hunter is why we pour billions of dollars into game management and lands, NOT to feed this predator. The state needs to kill far more shooting them from the air than the few hundred a year they are shooting from the air now on top of all of this. Good luck to all wolf hunters, to all practicing good sound game management.

Snowcrest
Snowcrest

Looks like the Blackfoot could use some sportsmen and women with wolf tags and a rifle.
Gotta love this internet!

walter12
walter12

Wolves are terrified of people and for good reason. Leave the wolves alone. Carry bear spray, carry a pistol or shotgun, protect yourself and your dogs but leave the wolves alone.

Don't Care
Don't Care

I was hunted by a pack of wolves this weekend. Don;t tell me they are afraid of humans, that's BS. Fortunately, the next guy in that area won;t have that problem.

Chewy
Chewy

Liar! You were not hunted by a pack of wolves.

Don't Care
Don't Care

Tell that to the wolves that stalked me and my buddy. 2 down out of 5 in the pack. I might have hit a couple more, who knows, who cares.

yadayada
yadayada

And one tried to blow my house down..

Don't Care
Don't Care

At the end of the day there was wolf blood on the forest floor. I could careless if you believe me or not. I was stalked and have a pelt to show for it.

BitterrootBlues
BitterrootBlues

You are about as out of touch with reality as anyone could be Walter. Likely because you stay indoors all day playing computer games and commenting on blogs about subjects you know nothing about.

BitterrootBlues
BitterrootBlues

"See em, shoot em. Skin em, sell em." Easy money if you know how to skin and tan. Plenty of wolves means plenty of opportunity right now for a family of hunters! Until the numbers are way back in check, "smoke a pack a day" should be the common goal in Montana.

Bittersweet
Bittersweet

Be assured that you will never be paid for your time selling wolf pelts in Montana. Interesting concept though. Possibly your time is worth a dollar or less per hour not to mention expenses. Doesn't sound like very "easy money" to me.

Don't Care
Don't Care

Trapping is a lucrative career. I know a guy in Idaho who traps. In 2 1/2 months he made close to $45K trapping bobcats. Other than drug dealers, there is hardly any profession that you can make that much money in that short of time. It isn't "easy work".

Gadfly
Gadfly

Halloween tonight: Unfortunately it is also a night of movies of werewolves and scary creatures of the night reinforcing the fear of wolves. Myth, lies, folklore still abound in America as can be seen from the shows on TV about werewolves, vampires, lycans, ghosts, creatures from the dark ages mythology and Christian beliefs. We have not evolved much from the old worlds' nonsense.

Bob cat
Bob cat

Gadfly
Why not mention the warm and fuzzy half of wolf myths, lies and folklore beliefs reinforcing the love of wolves. Those that see the wolf as a bother or soul. Those that want to join the werewolves, vampires and lycans. Those that believe the wolf can only do good. Those that believe wolves only kill the weak and sick, that only the alphas mate.

speedbow20
speedbow20

Arte you really this much af a fool in person? LOL

Gadfly
Gadfly

How many hunters are chasing declining ungulates? Hunting is never mentioned, but always a main culprit in any decline. Wolf myth: Wolves have nothing of significance to do with any decline in moose or elk. The moose decline has been happening since before wolves were even back on the wilderness scene in Montana and some other places wherein there were moose and the moose in the WI-MN-MI have been sharing habitat before without decline in moose numbers. So, something(s) is/are changing and more than likely any decline has to do with warming climate, forage, habitat intrusion by man. Any decline may turn out to be just movement out of some areas into others, not real decline. The elk population has actually been increasing with wolves back on the scene, 89,000 to 141,000 in Montana, but also in other states as well per RMEF. The moose population is increasing in some areas, even in Montana, like along the high line. The moose population is increasing in the state of WA. WY has had a 10 year, year after year of record elk hunting harvest. Moose generally like it cool and damp. The climate is becoming dry and hot. Flora and fauna have been retreating northward for several years now with warming climate. So, it is way off the mark to cry wolf anytime we see a decline in some aspect of the wilderness fauna. Hunting is always superfluous killing, additive to wildlife (i.e. elk and moose) decline and unhealthy for wildlife generally and the particular targeted species and wildlife ecology. Anytime there is a decline, look to hunting or climate.

Objective observer
Objective observer

Why do have this delusion that predators cannot effect ungulate numbers? It is a complete and total fantasy of yours.

Objective observer
Objective observer

And don't even think about denying that you have that fantasy. These are your own words:
"Anytime there is a decline, look to hunting or climate."

Roger
Roger

BS Gadfly - genuine wildlife biologists (unlike the indoctrinated MDFWP zombies) know from experience that wolves can severely reduce ungulate numbers.

A study of predators in the Lolo Zone in Idaho and a dozen similarly extensive peer-reviewed studies in Canada, Alaska and the Great Lakes all arrived at the same conclusion. Where multiple predators, including wolves, existed with alternate prey species, it was necessary to reduce the number of predators dramatically once prey populations were reduced – regardless of whether the prey reduction was natural or man-caused (as in excessive hunter harvests).

By 1985 even wolf expert David Mech admitted he was responsible for resurrecting the “balance of nature” myth as a graduate student and wrote “Far from being ‘balanced,’ ratios of wolves and prey animals can fluctuate wildly – and sometimes catastrophically.” He illustrated the necessity to dramatically reduce wolf numbers whenever their prey declined and F&G agencies in the Northern Rockies promised wolf numbers would be carefully monitored and controlled if they were introduced.

When Judge Molloy canceled Idaho’s proposed 2008 wolf hunt on July 18, 2008, Clearwater Region Biologist George Pauley gathered factual information from numerous long term peer-reviewed studies proving that habitat was not a cause of prey declines. These included research in the Clearwater by Pauley back in 1995, which was included in a 2008 10J proposal to lethally remove an average of 105 wolves for five years.

Jacob
Jacob

SSS

Chewy
Chewy

Oh look, another poaching supporter. If you don't get your way just break the law.

Roger
Roger

I agree with Jacob.

Don't Care
Don't Care

Why do you assume he is a poacher? I tag em before I kick them into the hole.

Sam Lobo
Sam Lobo

They are vermin you know........

Bittersweet
Bittersweet

“Hunters are seeing a lot of wolves, and lots of them don’t have (wolf) licenses,”

..........

Who wants to pay money to buy a license for a species they didn't want the opportunity to hunt in the first place, that you can't put on the dinner table, and that you likely not even get a single glimpse of no matter how much time you spend in the field let alone getting an ethical kill shot?

Why does the responsibility of managing the wolf population now fall on the very sportsmen that didn't want them here? Ohhhh, the irony.

.........

I have suggested at several FWP meetings that a deer or elk tag should be transferable to legally harvest a wolf. Trust me, it would work. If you now want the population culled, give the hunter a means to do so without making them purchase yet another tag for this predator.

Don't Care
Don't Care

650+ wolves in our state, so they say. 60 of them reside in the blackfoot. If there are 60 in the blackfoot we have 1000's in this state. Those figures are bogus. Wolves breed like rats.

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.