Study: Killing wolves for eating livestock increases the number that get eaten the following year

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WisconsinWolfHuntingFBBy Meteor Blades at Daily Kos.

(Wisconsin Wolf Hunting Community from Facebook.)

[A] study by Rob Wielgus, director of Washington State University’s Large Carnivore Conservation Lab, and Kaylie A. Peebles has concluded that lethal removal of wolves caught or suspected of killing livestock may actually increase how many sheep and cattle wolves may eat the following year. That’s counter-intuitive, as Wielgus readily concedes, but, he told Sarah Jane Keller at High Country News in early December: “I analyzed it like 50 times, with different statisticians and layers and layers of peer review because the results are kind of astounding:”

People have long assumed that fewer wolves lead to fewer depredations on sheep or cattle. And wildlife managers often say that lethal removal can be a salve for vitriol toward wolves, by providing a short-term solution for the harmed livestock producers, and by showing that states are actively managing the animals. It’s part of the reason some states allow wolf hunting, and why Washington, Montana, Idaho and Wyoming all lethally remove wolves that harm livestock. In 2013 the later three states killed 202 wolves for control purposes, or 8 percent of the population in all four states.But when Wielgus and his coauthor looked at 25 years of data on lethal wolf control and livestock depredations from Idaho, Wyoming, and Montana they found that killing one wolf increases the odds of sheep depredation by 4 percent the following year. For cattle, it increased the odds by 5 to 6 percent. […]

Wielgus suspects the answer may be found in wolf social dynamics. The animals may compensate for losing part of their pack by increasing reproduction and thus, the need to hunt for those new pups. Or wolves may become less efficient hunters in smaller groups and turn to dining on livestock. “I think the take home point is that social behavior and social systems of these large carnivores, pack dynamics, territory, all of that is a very important element to how wolves interact with their environment,” says John Pierce, chief wildlife scientist for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. “As we move forward in wolf management we should carefully be studying that and don’t assume a linear relationship (between wolf removal and depredation).”

Given that the reasons behind the results of the study are unclear without further research, its conclusions aren’t likely to put a damper on the complaints of ranchers in the states where wolves have been reintroduced and their populations have grown.

For instance, in Wyoming, the official response to the federal government’s taking wolves off the endangered species list resulted in the state setting aside one area around Yellowstone National Park that is limited to trophy hunting of wolves requiring a license and bound by a ceiling on how many wolves could be killed. But the rest of the state—80 percent of it—became a free-fire zone. Anyone driving along the highway or out hiking who saw a wolf could shoot it on the spot. No license required. No reporting required, although the state urged anyone who killed a wolf under such circumstances to do so.

Anybody who calls that a legitimate wildlife management program is clueless about what a good one is.

The situation changed in September when U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson ruled it had been “arbitrary and capricious” for the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to accept Wyoming’s “nonbinding promises to maintain a particular number of wolves when the availability of that specific numerical buffer was such a critical aspect of the delisting decision.”

Not surprisingly, Wyoming is appealing the decision. There are, after all, plenty of people in the West who opposed the wolf’s reintroduction in the first place and would be happy indeed if they could extirpate it once again in the lower 48 states as was done in the half-century ending in the 1930s.


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