BILLINGS, Mont. — The number of gray wolves in the northern Rockies has increased to more than 900 since last year, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates.
According to the agency's midyear estimate, 912 wolves now roam the three-state region, compared to 835 in December, said Ed Bangs, Fish and Wildlife's wolf recovery coordinator in Helena, Mont.
The agency attributed the increase primarily to Idaho's growing wolf population. The number of wolves in Montana is up from 2004 but below 2003, and it is down in Wyoming due to illness and competition for food and territory in Yellowstone National Park, officials said.
Wolves once had been virtually wiped out in the Lower 48 states to protect livestock.
Gray wolves were reintroduced to the northern Rockies a decade ago and in 2002 met the government's recovery targets. Wyoming has not submitted a management plan deemed acceptable by the federal agency, a necessary step before gray wolves could lose federal protection.
"But people who think wolves are just going to keep going, that's not true," Bangs said. "We're probably approaching as many wolves as we can handle in these conditions and times."
Wildlife officials use the estimates to gauge where monitoring efforts need to be focused.
Idaho had by far the most wolves in the region, with an estimated 525.
Steve Nadeau of the Idaho Department of Fish and Game said the state also saw a surge in livestock killed by wolves, though he had no immediate tally.
As wolves expand their territory, he said, that's to be expected. He described the current situation as "manageable."
In parts of Montana and Idaho, ranchers now have greater latitude in protecting livestock from predatory wolves.