FWS wolf estimates ‘a minimum’
Meeteetse — Mike Jimenez, wolf recovery coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) in Wyoming, says the wolf population estimates released by his agency are a minimum population, not an actual estimate of the number of wolves residing in the state.
“We’ve never really approached it to collar every pack,” says Jimenez. “The problem with wolves is a lot of people want to know where they are, and once we start putting collars on everything, that creates a monster.”
He says that when many wolves are collared and closely monitored, wolf advocates start naming wolves, and livestock producers tend to blame wolves for things, simply because wolves were in the area. “No other species is managed that way. Our overall goal is to bring them back and manage them like any other species. When there are problems, we deal with them quickly.”
He continues, “What we’ve been working on the last couple of years is to have a minimum estimated count, so we can say, ‘We have at least this many wolves,’ and that satisfies our obligation under the Endangered Species Act. As the population grows, that estimate becomes less and less accurate.”
The agency’s statements don’t, however, portray the numbers as minimums. The following paragraph was excerpted from a January 2009 FWS press release: “There are currently about 100 breeding pairs and 1,500 wolves in Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming.” The agency’s annual wolf reports (see sidebar) indicate “estimated” populations.
Regarding confirming and collaring new packs or groups of wolves, Jimenez says, “If they are by people, or in a heavy livestock area, we make more effort, but if they are out in the middle of nowhere, we don’t go look for them.”
This is evident by comparing wolf packs in annual reports from year-to-year. A pack might show up one year, but not be listed the next year, or be listed with an unknown number of wolves. “If they don’t cause problems with livestock, we don’t always go look for them,” he says.
In all fairness, the FWS staff has limited time to prepare reports for their state or area, and in Wyoming, where the National Park Service (NPS) and FWS work together to create the Wyoming report for wolves inside and outside Yellowstone National Park (YNP), sometimes things “fall through the cracks.”
Echo Renner is a correspondent for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup based in Meeteetse. Send comments on this article to firstname.lastname@example.org.