Wyoming maintains stable gray wolf populations

Cheyenne – Wyoming Game and Fish Department wildlife managers say steady gray wolf populations and conflict trends indicate Wyoming has reached a stable point around the state’s wolf population objective. According to the 2020 Wyoming Gray Wolf Monitoring and Management annual report, Wyoming is maintaining wolf numbers at healthy levels using hunting, which also helps hold conflict numbers at bay.

Established population objectives for wolves are outlined in the Wyoming Gray Wolf Management Plan. That plan guides wolf management in Wyoming and is the plan the state will continue to implement following the 5-year post delisting monitoring period. Recovery criteria for Wyoming is 100 wolves and 10 breeding pairs outside Yellowstone National Park and the Wind River Reservation.

As of Dec. 31, 2020, at least 147 wolves reside within the wolf trophy game management area (WTGMA), where Game and Fish focuses management. The wolf population for Yellowstone National Park and Wind River Reservation is at least 123 and at least 21 respectively. An additional 36 wolves were documented in the seasonal WTGMA and predatory animal areas outside Yellowstone and the Wind River Reservation, bringing the total minimum population in Wyoming to at least 327 wolves.

“After having management of wolves returned to Wyoming in April of 2017 we made a strong commitment to ensure we would be responsive and responsible managers in accordance with the plan,” said Dan Thompson, large carnivore section supervisor. “Part of that is providing an accurate population estimate possible. We are building a dataset that supports our management actions and helps target areas of livestock conflict and areas where there are concerns with how wolves are affecting certain big game populations.”

Reaching a steady wolf population is partially attributed to hunting in the northwest corner of the state. Wolf hunting seasons within the WTGMA and seasonal WTGMA require hunters to have a license and adhere to set mortality limits and other regulations. In 2020, hunters in the WTGMA and seasonal WTGMA accounted for nearly 43% of all wolf mortalities, while conflict attributed to 38% of the mortalities.

Ken Mills, the report author and the lead wolf biologist for Game and Fish, said seeing success with hunting as a tool to stabilize wolf populations is notable.

“That lends credence to our management approach and how we are going through the recovery process,” Mills said.

This is the 19th consecutive year wolf numbers have remained above minimum delisting criteria, and shows the way the presence of the animal has become integrated into the broader ecosystem.

“It is significant that today we are reaching a point where we have predictability in our management,” Mills said.

Game and Fish is currently taking comments on the 2021 proposals for gray wolf hunting seasons. The public can review the draft regulations and submit comments until 5 p.m. June 4.