Habitat Selection by Recolonizing Wolves in the Northern Rocky Mountains of the United States




Gray wolf (Canis lupus) populations have persisted and expanded in northwest Montana since 1986, while reintroduction efforts in Idaho and Yellowstone have further bolstered the regional population. However, rigorous analysis of either the availability of wolf habitat in the entire region, or the specific habitat requirements of local wolves, has yet to be conducted. We examined wolf-habitat relationships in the northern Rocky Mountains of the U.S. by relating landscape/habitat features found within wolf pack home ranges (n = 56) to those found in adjacent non-occupied areas (n = 56). Logistic regression revealed that increased forest cover, lower human population density, higher elk density, and lower sheep density were the primary factors related to wolf occupation. Similar factors promoted wolf pack persistence. Further, our analysis indicated that relatively large tracts of suitable habitat remain unoccupied in the Rocky Mountains, suggesting that wolf populations likely will continue to increase in the region. Analysis of the habitat linkage between the 3 main wolf recovery areas indicates that populations in central Idaho and northwest Montana have higher connectivity than either of the 2 recovery areas to the Greater Yellowstone recovery area. Thus, for the northern Rocky Mountains to function as a metapopulation for wolves, it will be necessary that dispersal corridors to the Yellowstone ecosystem be established and conserved.