JACKSON, Wyoming — The West's largest known wolf pack roams in northwest Wyoming, federal wildlife officials say.
The 24 wolves in the Lava Mountain Pack is nine more than any other pack surveyed this year in Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, Washington or Oregon, state and federal reports indicate. The predators roam hill country about 30 miles northeast of Jackson.
"That's a very large pack," Mike Jimenez, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Northern Rocky Mountain wolf coordinator, told the Jackson Hole News & Guide (http://bit.ly/1HkppKA ). "They actually had a double litter a year ago, and that's uncommon."
First documented in 2008, the Lava Mountain Pack was already the largest pack in Wyoming a year ago when it had 15 wolves. Then, two litters of pups were born in 2014, Jimenez said.
But the pack's size likely will not last, he said.
"Big packs don't stay big for very long," Jimenez said. "What happens is they kick out dispersers, or they fracture."
Ken Mills, large carnivore biologist with the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, agreed that the pack's numbers likely would dwindle.
"They don't tend to be very stable, just because they are so large and they require a lot of resources," Mills said. "Socially, they don't tend to be stable."
After wolves were reintroduced to the West 20 years ago, the largest pack became Yellowstone National Park's Druid Pack, which is now defunct.
"Just think, in Yellowstone, there's no public hunting, no livestock control," Jimenez said. "It's pretty much running in a natural state."
The Druids, which peaked at 37 wolves in 2001, declined naturally and broke up by 2010.
The pattern was similar for other Yellowstone packs with more than 20 wolves, Jimenez said. Their numbers grew after reintroduction, then dropped and eventually disappeared, he said.
"The size of the big, big packs, it isn't inherently better," Jimenez said. "You get a pack that big, and you can imagine it's probably formidable and it's a pretty good defender of its territory."
But large numbers of wolves need lots of prey around to survive, he said.
Information from: Jackson Hole (Wyo.) News And Guide, http://www.jhnewsandguide.com