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Montana wolf population stable at end of last year, officials say

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Cache Creek wolves

The Cache Creek Pack, west of Missoula, is pictured on March 26, 2013.

Montana wildlife managers’ annual evaluation of wolf population and distribution shows a similar estimate to the past several years for 2021.

Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks uses population modeling, called improved patch occupancy modeling, to estimate the state’s wolf numbers and distribution. The method includes data from hunter surveys and biological data on wolves.

At the end of 2021, the model estimates 1,141 wolves were in the state. That is down 40 wolves from 2020 and close to estimates of the last few years. In the last 10 years, wolf populations hit an estimated high of 1,256 in 2011 and a low of 1,113 in 2017. In the last 10 years, estimated pack numbers have fluctuated from a high of 205 in 2012 to a low of 186 in 2017.

The 2021 Montana Legislature passed and Gov. Greg Gianforte signed a slate of new laws aimed at reducing the state’s wolf population, including one law that directs wildlife officials to lower numbers to a “sustainable” level. The Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission followed suit, enacting regulations on the use of snares, increased bag limits and allowing night hunting on private land and use of bait for hunting.

Despite additional methods of take and long seasons, hunters and trappers killed the fewest last season compared to the previous four — FWP notes that trapping effort was down for the last license year. The population estimate does not take into account wolves hunted or trapped in 2022, which made up the bulk of the last season.

Wolf hunting and trapping, while often controversial, drew national attention last year after the commission eliminated quotas near Yellowstone National Park and 21 wolves were killed in the districts just north of the park. FWP has proposed establishing a 10-wolf quota for the upcoming season.

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