27 % decline in 2008 will be followed by another decline in ’09-
At the end of 2007 there were 171 wolves that lived primarily inside Yellowstone Park, but very high pup mortality due to disease (distemper) along with the natural attrition of adult and sub-adult wolves caused a 27% decline (124 wolves). Disease had hit the pups two other years since wolves beginning in 1995 were restored to Yellowstone. In each case, pups and the population rebounded the next year. Not so in 2009.
Once again pup mortality is very high. The Druid Pack lost all 8 of its pups, for example. There is one important pup mortality difference from 2008. This year the poor pup survival does not appear to be due to a distemper outbreak or other obvious disease.
Mortality of adult wolves is increasing from the mange infestation that seeped into the Park. Mollies Pack was the first pack known to have become infested, although Park border packs in Montana in eastward in Wyoming have suffered from the debilitating mite for years now. Doug Smith, Park wolf team leader, told me that Mollies still has mange, but is showing some improvment. Perhaps the most infested pack is the famous Druids. On the northern range, the Mt. Everts Pack also struggles with mange, but the Blacktail Pack, Agate Pack, and Quadrant Packs are mange free. It is expected that at the end of the year there will probably be 6 “breeding pairs” of wolves in the Park (the same as 2008).
For the first time there are more Park packs living south of famous Northern Range. Packs inhabit all corners of the Park, although the Bechler Pack in Park’s southwest corner lost its only radio collar when its big white founding male finally died this summer. He originally migrated from the Northern Range all the way down. He was born to the once famous Rose Creek Pack, which was slowly driven northward out of the Park by other packs to eventually disappear as a discrete entity.
The decline of Park wolves has management implications for Idaho, Montana and Wyoming. Wolf managers in the states are generally quick to say,”Oh, studies show you can manage for 30% wolf mortality a year” (note that unlike with other animals, the word “manage” when used by state wolf managers always means to kill). Even some non-affiliated biologists say 30% wolf mortality a year and a stable population go together.
Data from Yellowstone Park shows this generalization has one big exception, and it would be wise to expect that more will happen on other places.
In other news, wolves have been visible inside Grand Teton National Park, with the Antelope Pack being particularly out in the open where visitors can watch them.