There are two ways of looking at the Idaho Department of Fish and Game's recent wolf monitoring report: The number of wolf deaths declined 24 percent (from 473 to 360) and the estimated number of wolves in the state increased from 684 to 770. Also, said the report, "The number of reproductive wolf packs (or pairs) in Idaho is far higher than the number of wolf packs documented to meet the federal breeding pair criteria." (IDFG press release)
But another take is that the documented number of wolves was actually down in 2014 from the year before. And, despite an increase in the number of documented breeding pairs (from 20 to 26), the number of breeding pairs is down significantly since Idaho began allowing the hunting of wolves.
"Unlike Montana and Wyoming, Idaho does not base its population estimate solely on observation of wolf packs by the state's biologists, but rather combines direct observations with extrapolated wolf numbers," the Center for Biological Diversity said.
"Idaho's biologists actually documented only 272 wolves in 43 packs, but the state claims 770 wolves in 104 packs based on hunter reports and an average pack size of 6.5 wolves. There are probably more than 43 packs, but because hunters likely report dispersing wolves or even coyotes and pack size varies considerably, the exact number is unknown. This is why both Montana and Wyoming present a minimum count of just the wolves that they themselves count."
Excerpts from the report:
Biologists documented 104 packs within the state at the end of 2014. In addition, there were 23 documented border packs counted by Montana, Wyoming, and Washington that had established territories overlapping the Idaho state boundary. Additional packs are suspected but not included due to lack of documentation.
Determination of breeding pair status was made for 43 packs. Of these, 26 packs met breeding pair criteria at the end of 2014, and 17 packs did not. No determination of breeding pair status was made for the remaining 61 packs. Reproduction (production of at least 1 pup) was documented in a minimum 55 packs. The year-end population for documented packs, other documented groups not qualifying as packs, and lone wolves was estimated at 770 wolves.
Mortalities of 360 wolves were documented in Idaho in 2014, 113 wolves (24%) less than in 2013. Human-caused mortality accounted for 342 of 344 (99%) wolf mortalities during 2014 where cause of death could be determined. Legal harvest was 256 wolves, agency removal and legal take was 67 wolves, and mortality from other human causes was 19 wolves. Sixteen wolf mortalities were attributed to unknown causes and two were attributed to natural causes.
The probability that a pack meets breeding pair criteria increases as pack size increases (Mitchell et al. 2008). Consistent with this relationship, the proportion of packs meeting the breeding pair criterion decreased noticeably as pack size diminished after harvest began in 2009. The increase in breeding pairs detected during 2014 was associated both with an increase in mean pack size, and with an increase in field effort during 2014.