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Mist in the mountains of Idaho State



A scenting wolf illustration

Because wolves are carnivores with large territories they generally exist at low densities compared to other species. Thus, finding wolves to study them and learn about their populations is exceedingly difficult. When we began our project in 2006, there were few alternatives to capture and radiocollaring to locate wolves and study them. We created several new noninvasive techniques to survey for and sample wolves including, rendezvous site scat surveys, rub stations, howlboxes, and extensions to occupancy modeling. Additionally, we created and tested a nonlethal technique to avert wolf predation on livestock; the biofence.

In 2009, Idaho began hunting wolves and in 2011 trapping was added to the methods of take. We started using the new sampling techniques we had created to study the potential effect of hunting and trapping on wolves.  Initially, harvest rates in Idaho were low to moderate but the state has increased the total number of wolves hunted and trapped in recent years, thus we continue to learn more about the effects of hunting and trapping on wolves. 

While our work has focused on creating noninvasive sampling techniques and exploring the potential effects of hunting and trapping on wolves, we have also learned a great deal about wolves’ social ecology as part of our research. We have provided new insights into how variable wolf mating systems are and how pack dynamics and wolf social ecology interact to generate the population structures we see in the wild. 

Wolves live in family groups known as packs. A pack often consists of a breeding male and female and their offspring from previous years. Wolves hunt cooperatively for food often preying on large ungulates such as deer and elk. Offspring generally mature at age 2 or 3 and can disperse sometimes hundreds of miles in search of a mate or new pack to join.

Our work consists of locating wolves in Idaho in summer to try and genetically sample every individual in the pack. We have made a habitat map that predicts locations where wolves might be rearing pups in summer. Once we find such sites (through lots of hiking and howling) we collect fecal samples at each site. We then extract DNA from each fecal sample and use it to identify individual wolves. Through DNA analyses, we follow individuals over time and assess how hunting and trapping might be affecting wolf pack size, composition, and persistence. Finally, because we have been sampling the same packs for many years, we can ask questions about wolf ecology that previously have been very difficult to answer. For example, most recently we have been asking what conditions might influence the decision of nonbreeding wolves to stay in or leave packs? Answering such questions not only help us better understand wolf ecology but also provide insights for what affects wolf dispersal behavior and population connectivity.


This work has required significant collaboration with other scientists over the years including Dr. Mike Mitchell (retired USGS), Dr. Lisette Waits (Univ. of Idaho), and Dr. Sarah Bassing (Univ. of Idaho).

We Do

Wolf walking illustration
Grey Wolf breeders infographic for the Idaho Wolf Project
Idaho Wolf Project_wolf breeders infographic


The Idaho Wolf Project collaborates with wildlife management agencies and private funders to deliver rigorous science on issues of great conservation importance.

Thank you to our current donors

Andrea Nasi

Anonymous Donors

The Coypu Foundation

Elaine French

Jackson Fork Ranch

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Willard L. Eccles Foundation

National Park Service Logo
Idaho Fish and Game Logo
United States Geological Survey Logo
Bernice Barboura Foundation Logo

Photos from the field depicting tracking, scat collection and the beautiful views our technicians get to experience! 

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