Wolf population declining in Yellowstone National Park

POWELL, Wyo. — Officials say Yellowstone National Park’s gray wolf population has dropped to about 80 wolves – less than half of the highest population mark in the park.

The Powell Tribune reported on Thursday that while park officials won’t have an accurate count until the fall after surviving pups are visible, the park’s top biologist, Doug Smith, doesn’t expect the numbers to rise dramatically after litters are included in population estimates.

Smith says the survival rate of gray pups is only about 7%.

Smith says Yellowstone had as many as 174 wolves in the park in 2003.

Smith largely blames outbreaks of disease – including distemper, mange and the parvo virus – and packs moving out of the park for the decline.

Smith says the leading cause of natural mortality is wolves killing wolves.

Overall in Wyoming, biologists estimate the wolf population at 286 this year, which is down 61 animals from a year ago.

The Jackson Hole News & Guide reports that’s the fewest wolves counted in the state since the Wyoming Game and Fish Department took over management and initiated wolf hunting seven years ago.

State biologists estimate there were 46 wolf packs in the state at the end of 2018.

Game and Fish wolf biologist Ken Mills says a combination of hunting, natural mortality and reduced pup production drove down the number of wolves in the state.

Although having fewer wolves concerns wildlife watchers and activists, the outcome is what Wyoming wildlife managers have been seeking.

With fewer wolves, documented conflicts between wolves and domestic animals fell off last calendar year.

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