JACKSON -- While Wyoming's wolf population outside Yellowstone National Park increased in 2010, depredation losses were the lowest on record since 2003, according to an unofficial year-end report published by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Although the official report won't be available until March, it is estimated that Wyoming's wolf population outside Yellowstone National Park increased by about 9 percent to about 247 wolves, while depredations decreased to a total of 64 animals. In 2009, an estimated 222 animals were killed by wolves.
Despite a slight increase in the number of packs, the number of packs guilty of livestock kills decreased slightly in 2010 as well.
Ed Bangs, wolf recovery coordinator for the Fish and Wildlife Service, said the decreased depredation despite slightly higher populations is a result of "more aggressive control."
"We're doing lethal control much earlier, removing entire packs much earlier," he said. "If you've got a problem where you've had a bunch of problems in the past, you're better off getting in there right away rather than dragging it out and killing one here and one there."
Bangs said the total population of Wyoming's wolves has stayed relatively the same for the past five years. Numbers outside the park have crept up, but as agency officials are killing wolves that migrate to areas where conflicts occur, wolf populations are stabilizing.
"We're not into restoring wolves anymore, we're into minimizing damage," he said.
In total, preliminary estimates indicate there are 348 wolves in Wyoming including Yellowstone, in 45 packs. In Yellowstone, there are an estimated 101 wolves in 11 packs.
At the end of 2009, there were an estimated 320 wolves in 44 packs in Wyoming, including Yellowstone. Outside Yellowstone there were 224 wolves in 30 packs at the end of 2009. Wolves killed about 222 animals last year, and 31 wolves were removed from the population in federal actions.
In 2010, 40 wolves were killed in agency actions, with a total of 58 documented wolf mortalities. Nine were illegal killings or are under investigation.
Jim Magagna, executive vice president with the Wyoming Stock Growers Association, said some credit belongs to the Fish and Wildlife Service for taking quicker action in dealing with problem wolves.
"They've generally been responsive," he said. Magagna also speculated that there is growing competition between grizzly bears and wolves for prey including livestock, particularly in areas of Sublette County, and it could be that more livestock losses because of grizzlies this summer led wolves elsewhere.
Magagna said he doesn't have proof, but in looking at numbers and talking to ranchers in the area, there could be a relation between the two species and depredations.
In 2010, Sublette County experienced the most cattle losses attributed to wolves with 12 confirmed kills, according to the report. Big Horn County saw the most sheep losses with 24. Total cattle depredations in 2010 were 26, and there were 33 confirmed sheep losses. That number is a dramatic drop from 2009, which saw 195 sheep losses.
Bangs said he cannot predict how much more the wolf population will grow, but at some point the population will stop increasing.
"I don't think that number is terribly much higher than it is right now," he said. "If we had hunting it wouldn't. I'm not sure there's a lot more room for wolves in Wyoming."