Record Wolves in North American Rockies

Lower 48 wolf populations reach record highs in the Rockies, but population growth is leveling off. Meanwhile, the park service battles the state of Alaska over aerial hunting.
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Lower 48 wolf populations reach record highs in the Rockies, but population growth is leveling off. Meanwhile, the park service battles the state of Alaska over aerial hunting.

It's official—the wolf is loose. According to U.S. Fish and Wildlife officials, North American gray wolves number a record 1,645 individuals in the Rocky Mountains of the Lower 48, with 497 in Montana, 302 in Wyoming and 846 in Idaho. That's an 8 percent growth over last year.

That growth is actually down from the 24 percent average rate of growth since their re-introduction in the mid-90s. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist Ed Bangs said this natural downturn reflects the fact that wolf populations have expanded as far as they can in their current Rocky Mountain range. The USFWS think this fact backs up the Obama administration's decision to keep the wolf de-listed.

"The population is getting to about as many as you're going to have," he said. "There's a big, healthy population in the Northern Rocky Mountains," he said. "At some point, the suitable habitat will be filled with wolves and the population just won't grow any more."

Meanwhile, in Alaska, the National Park Service remains troubled by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game's decision to control wolf populations by aerial hunting. So far, they've killed 30 wolves and plan to shoot 150 more in hopes of boosting the Fortymile herd of caribou near Fairbanks; officials think that if they can cull that number of wolves, enough caribou calves will survive to boost the population long-term.

The park service worries that the Alaska Department of Fish and Game will end up killing protected wolves who roam outside of the nearby Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve. The Department of Fish and Game has agreed not to shoot collared wolves and packs known to move in and out of the preserve, but fears of serious wolf depopulation remain.

"We don’t want to see the wolf population, or those packs that frequent the Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve, be eliminated or reduced significantly," said Debora Cooper, the Park Service’s associate regional director for natural resources.

Rest assured, we'll keep you up to date on the latest lupine developments. We know how you all can't resist a good dogfight over wolves.

—Ted Alvarez

Number of wolves increase again (AP)

Helicopter wolf kill in Alaska worries U.S. park service (Boston Herald)