Wolf Conflict Facts

While the details of wolf predation on livestock and game make for juicy newspaper headlines, the data collected by wildlife biologists over the past decade tell a far less lurid story. What’s more, understanding this data has led to workable solutions for ranchers and hunters across the West. We believe an understanding of the facts can help the states create fair, balanced plans for managing our native wolves.

Conflicts with Livestock

Yes, wolves kill livestock, but not to the degree extremists would have you believe. For example, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, in 2005 wolves killed 244 sheep in Idaho. In 2006, 237 sheep in Idaho were killed by wolves, while in 2007, 185 sheep were killed by wolves across the state.

Compare those numbers to other causes of death for sheep in Idaho in 2004 (the last year for which complete statistics are available):

Overall sheep deaths were reportedly due to:

  • digestive problems: 1,600 
  • respiratory disease: 1,300
  • birthing problems: 1,100
  • miscellaneous health problems: 3,200
  • predators (all combined): 12,100 *
  • harsh weather: 600
  • poisoning: 800

* Sheep deaths due to predators represented 55 percent of overall losses.

Predator depredation deaths included:

  • coyotes: 7,100 sheep 
  • dogs: 1,400 sheep
  • bears: 1,100 sheep
  • mountain lions: 400 sheep
  • wolves: 270 sheep

Click here to see the most recent USDA statistics on sheep losses:

What about cattle?

From the National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) report "Cattle Death Loss", released May 12, 2011:
Click here to read the entire report

Nationally - % cattle & calves (combined) lost due to:

  • disease, injury, other medical problems: 50.2%
    * 251 times as many as wolves 
  • unknown and uncategorized non-predator: 18.4%
    * 92 times as many as wolves
  • calving: 12.4%
    * 25 times as many as wolves
  • weather: 12.3%
    * 25 times as many as wolves
  • all predators (including domestic dogs): 5.5%
    specifically dogs: 0.5%
    * 2.5 times as many as wolves
    specifically vultures: 0.3%
    * 1.5 times as many as wolves
    specifically wolves: 0.2%
    * 4% of predator losses
  • poisoning: 0.9%
    * over 4 times as many as wolves
  • theft: 0.4%
    * twice as many as wolves

Predation of Game Species

Click here for our new WOLVES AND HUNTING fact sheet pdf

Elk are a prime food source for wolves. While wolves are impacting elk in a few hunting districts, these are the minority, as elk populations throughout the tri-state area remain high:


  • 120,000 elk estimated statewide, 50 percent above objective
  • The state of Wyoming continues to manage for a reduction in elk population


  • 150,000 elk estimated statewide, 14 percent over objective
  • Montana has the second highest elk population of any state


  • Estimated population: 101,100, slightly below objective3
  • 23 of the state's 29 game management zones have elk numbers within targets or above4

Some hunters in the Northern Rockies have reported that it is harder to find elk since wolves have returned to the region, but this is not because there are fewer elk.  For example, Montana's elk herd has grown from 55,000 in 1978 to 150,00 today.  Rather, as documented by researchers and experienced by sportsmen, wolves cause elk to change their behavior on the landscape. Since the return of wolves to the West, elk tend to linger less in open areas, often move to higher altitudes, and may even leave one valley to seek out more hidden locales in a nearby valley.

While changes in elk behavior may create a more challenging hunting experience (for wolves as well as people!), elk populations throughout the region remain high. Wolves help keep elk herds strong and healthy by preying preferentially upon the most vulnerable, sick or old animals.5

1Wyoming Game and Fish
2Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks
3Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation 2010 elk forecast
4Idaho Dept. of Fish and Game
5Lukens, Jim. "Eleven Years with Wolves - What We've Learned" News release, Idaho F&G, April 25, 2006

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