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Reliable knowledge of the status and trend of carnivore populations is critical to their conservation and management. Methods for monitoring carnivores, however, are challenging to conduct across large spatial scales. In the Northern Rocky Mountains, wildlife managers need a time- and cost-efficient method for monitoring gray wolf (Canis lupus) populations. Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks (MFWP) conducts annual telephone surveys of >50,000 deer and elk hunters. We explored how survey data on hunters' sightings of wolves could be used to estimate the occupancy and distribution of wolf packs and predict their abundance in Montana for 2007–2009. We assessed model utility by comparing our predictions to MFWP minimum known number of wolf packs. We minimized false positive detections by identifying a patch as occupied if 2–25 wolves were detected by ≥3 hunters. Overall, estimates of the occupancy and distribution of wolf packs were generally consistent with known distributions. Our predictions of the total area occupied increased from 2007 to 2009 and predicted numbers of wolf packs were approximately 1.34–1.46 times the MFWP minimum counts for each year of the survey. Our results indicate that multi-season occupancy models based on public sightings can be used to monitor populations and changes in the spatial distribution of territorial carnivores across large areas where alternative methods may be limited by personnel, time, accessibility, and budget constraints.
Additional Publication Details
Estimating occupancy and predicting numbers of gray wolf packs in Montana using hunter surveys