If you read the mainstream media or listen to any politicians in the western states, you probably have a sense that the wolf population is skyrocketing with no possible end in sight. Those of us who follow the wolf issue know that the wolf population peaked in Yellowstone National Park three years ago and will peak in Idaho and Montana as well. My comments to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and to the Idaho Fish and Game were on this issue. Specifically, we need to allow the wolf population to reach its full potential to achieve the full ecosystem value from the wolves and to enable dispersion to other areas (Oregon, Washington, Nevada, Utah, and Colorado).
Even though the population growth in Idaho slowed to 8% last year, the media and politicians have still used the 24% growth number from pervious years. Another favorite ploy they use to mislead the residents of Idaho is to talk about Idaho wolves, but use the population numbers from all states. I have seen this tactic used repetitively on the local news and in the local paper.
This week the Fish and Wildlife Service released their mid-year estimate which indicates a decline in the wolf population from last year. Of course, one data point does not make a trend. In this case there are two data points, last years slower rate and this year's declining rate. It will be another year or two before we know for sure. A population can realize temporary setbacks a well. This could be one of those. A few years ago, Yellowstone National Park had a significant decline as there was an outbreak of Parvo virus killing many pups. Due to high adult mortality, a large number of pups are required to keep the population stable. Parvo virus can have a significant impact on the population numbers. Another factor is that so far this year the Wildlife Services have killed a record number of wolves at a record cost to taxpayers (don't get me started on that issue!).
Whether this is the year that the population stabilizes or it happens in two more years, it will happen. The wolves will be regulated by their prey, which is predominantly elk. The elk lived for 65 years in Idaho without wolf predators. Now that wolves are here, the elk are getting smarter and changing their behavior. Also, most of the old, sick, and dying elk have been cleaned up by the wolves. This is one of many positive impacts wolves have on elk health. The result is that Idaho will likely go through a transition similar to Yellowstone, the wolf population will peak and then settle down to 10-20% below that peak.