Archive for the ‘Washington State University’ Tag

Reward Increased to $20,000 in Killing of Endangered Wolf in Washington   Leave a comment

From:  Center for Biological Diversity

Dec. 23, 2014

SEATTLEConservation groups are now offering up to a $20,000 reward for information leading to conviction of those responsible for the illegal killing of the breeding female wolf of the Teanaway pack in Washington’s Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest. Last month the groups posted a reward offer of up to $15,000, but have now increased the amount, after a member of Conservation Northwest stepped forward to contribute an additional $5,000.

Teanaway Pack wolf

Photo of a member of the Teanaway pack courtesy Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. This photo is available for media use.

“This new donation to help bring the Teanaway wolf poacher to justice shows how passionate Washingtonians are about protecting our rare and recovering wildlife,” said Jasmine Minbashian of Conservation Northwest. “There is strong support for wolf recovery in Washington, and people are appalled by this type of illegal killing. We’re thrilled to see our supporters stepping up like this, they make our work possible.”

The Teanaway Pack wolf was killed in mid-October near Salmon la Sac in the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest, making it the fourth known illegal wolf-killing in the state in 2014. In February a member of the Smackout Pack was found killed in Stevens County; in August a wolf was found gunned down in Ferry County; and a Whitman County farmer is facing potential prosecution after chasing a wolf for miles, then gunning it down after seeing the wolf near his field.

“It’s hard to comprehend these senseless illegal killings, because not only are wolves legally protected, there is no evidence these wolves were doing anything harmful at the time of their deaths,” said Amaroq Weiss, West Coast wolf organizer for the Center for Biological Diversity. “What’s more, if anyone thinks they were helping out livestock producers by killing wolves, the exact opposite is true; a brand new study published by a Washington State University wolf scientist demonstrates that killing wolves can increase wolf-livestock conflicts.”

Wolves, which were largely eradicated from the state by the early-to-mid 1900s, are starting to make a comeback, and are fully protected under the federal Endangered Species Act in the western two-thirds of Washington and throughout the state under state endangered species law. The state wolf-conservation goal is a minimum of 15 successful breeding pairs for three consecutive years in three recovery regions across the state from eastern Washington to the Olympic Peninsula. To date, numbers of successful breeding packs in the state have been stagnant at five packs since 2012.  However, in 2014 three of those packs will no longer qualify as successful breeders since the breeding females of the Huckleberry Pack and the Teanaway Packhave both been killed and a wildfire resulted in the loss of most pups from the Lookout Pack.

“This deplorable action should not be left unchecked. Washington’s wolf population remains precarious, and killing the breeding alpha female of the Teanaway pack has cascading consequences for continued wolf recovery in Washington,” said Shawn Cantrell, Northwest regional director for Defenders of Wildlife. “This reward will hopefully help law enforcement bring the perpetrator to justice.”

According to Special Agent Eric Marek with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Office of Law Enforcement, the investigation is still open and ongoing. Anyone with information about the killing of the Teanaway female wolf, or anyone who may have noticed suspicious behavior in the Salmon la Sac area in October, should contact federal law-enforcement agents at (206) 512-9329 or (509) 727-8358. State law enforcement may be contacted at the 1-877-933-9847 hotline for reporting poaching activity in Washington.

The organizations that have contributed to the reward fund for information leading to a conviction in this case include the Center for Biological Diversity, Conservation Northwest, Defenders of Wildlife, The Humane Society of the United States, The Humane Society Wildlife Land Trust and Woodland Park Zoo.



Guest: Killing wolves will come back to haunt farmers and ranchers   Leave a comment

From:  Seattle Times

Dec 12, 2014 by Amaroq Weiss Special to The Times

Killing wolves to save livestock will lead to greater killing of livestock, guest columnist Amaroq Weiss writes, pointing to a new scientific study

A gray wolf


FOR decades, whenever wolves preyed on livestock, the routine response among many ranchers and wildlife managers across the West has been brutally simple: kill the wolves.

More dead wolves equal fewer dead cows and sheep, the reasoning went.

And in many cases the reasoning is likely dead wrong, according to research published recently by a leading Washington state wolf scientist.

Confounding widely held beliefs, the new study indicates lethal responses to livestock predation by wolves often lead to an increase in attacks, or depredations.

It’s a message that may not be heard in Washington, where state wildlife managers responded to livestock depredations by eradicating the Wedge pack in 2012 and killing the alpha female of the Huckleberry pack last summer. Recently, the state Department of Fish and Wildlife announced it will swiftly move to lethal tactics if the Huckleberry pack kills any livestock next spring and, in statements to conservation groups, has said it is considering “pre-emptive” killing of wolves. Both of these policies flout the state wolf plan, which emphasizes conflict-deterrence as opposed to simply killing wolves.

Killing of wolves by the state compounds illegal wolf-killing by those few who take things into their own hands.

Reports last month that the alpha female of the trouble-free Teanaway pack was fatally shot come on the heels of a Whitman County farmer chasing a wolf for miles before killing it, and Stevens County commissioners exhorting county residents to kill wolves. Earlier this year, a wolf from the Smackout pack was found illegally killed in Stevens County and another wolf was discovered gunned down in Ferry County.

The groundbreaking research by Washington State University wolf scientist Rob Wielgus, published in the Dec. 3 issue of the scientific journal PLOS One, suggests killing wolves can have unexpected results, dissolving previously well-behaved packs and leaving small groups or lone wolves more inclined to kill livestock.

Wielgus said many states are aggressively managing wolves based on the largely untested perception that lethal control reduces depredations. His findings reflect research by other scientists showing increased black bear and cougar mortality results in more depredations.

Examining annual reports from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Department of Agriculture over 25 years, Wielgus’ analysis found that each wolf killed increased the chance of livestock depredation the following year by 5 percent. Not until the mortality rate of wolves exceeds 25 percent would livestock depredations decrease.

His study opens the door to further study and debate about whether we’re doing enough to recover wolves. A recent study I co-authored analyzing the additional good wolf habitat across the United States found that more than 25,000 square miles of suitable habitat remains unoccupied in Washington — more than five times the area currently occupied.

In all, the study identified more than 350,000 square miles of additional habitat for gray wolves in 19 states, offering the potential to nearly double the wolf population in the Lower 48 states to around 10,000 by expanding recovery into suitable areas of the West Coast, Northeast, southern Rocky Mountains and the Grand Canyon area where the first gray wolf in the region in more than 70 years was just confirmed.

But, as we consider expanding wolf recovery to levels that leading scientists deem more sustainable, we must first expand our approach to wolf management.

And, as our knowledge of how human activities impact wildlife continues to evolve, Washington’s wolf-management policies must evolve toward serving not just hunters and ranchers opposed to wolves but the interests of a broader range of taxpaying constituents, who demand that wildlife be managed not as a problem but as a treasured public trust.

Amaroq Weiss is a biologist for the Center for Biological Diversity where her work focuses on recovering wolves across the Northwest, Rockies and California.


Study: Killing wolves doesn’t result in fewer livestock attacks   Leave a comment

From:  UPI

“The only way you’re going to completely eliminate livestock depredations is to get rid of all the wolves,” Rob Wielgus said.
 By Brooks Hays   |   Dec. 4, 2014 at 11:31 AM

PULLMAN, Wash., Dec. 4 (UPI) — The frequent fights that boil up over the protection of wild predators routinely feature the same interested parties — conservationists and animals rights activists one on side, ranchers on the other.

Understandably, ranchers are consistently concerned about their ability to protect their herds — their assets. But now, new research may weaken their bargaining position, as recent scientific evidence suggests killing wolves does not reduce the frequency of livestock attacks.

Researchers at the Washington State University arrived at their findings after analyzing 25 years of lethal control data from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The data on wolf killings in Montana, Wyoming and Idaho showed that killing a single wolf actually increased the chance of livestock attacks the following year.

One dead wolf increased odds of depredations four percent for sheep herds, and five to six percent for cattle. If 20 wolves were shot or trapped the year prior, livestock deaths doubled.

“I had no idea what the results were going to be, positive or negative,” Rob Wielgus, a wildlife biologist at Washington State University, said in a press release. “I said, ‘Let’s take a look at it and see what happened.’ I was surprised that there was a big effect.”

Wielgus, who conducted the research with the help of data analyst Kaylie Peebles, says that killing wolves likely disrupts the social order of the pack. An older mating pair will keep younger, less mature wolves from coupling and starting a family. But should one or both of two mature mating wolves be killed, younger pairs will form. Starting a family limits a wolf’s ability to hunt, and increases the likelihood that a wolf will be forced to seek out easy prey like cattle and sheep.

Wielgus encourages ranchers to use more effective non-lethal strategies like guard dogs, range guards on horseback, flags and spotlights.

“The only way you’re going to completely eliminate livestock depredations is to get rid of all the wolves,” Wielgus said, “and society has told us that that’s not going to happen.”


The study was published this week in the journal PLOS ONE:

Effects of Wolf Mortality on Livestock Depredations

  • Robert B. Wielgus,
    Kaylie A. Peebles mail
  • Published: December 03, 2014
  • DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0113505


Predator control and sport hunting are often used to reduce predator populations and livestock depredations, – but the efficacy of lethal control has rarely been tested. We assessed the effects of wolf mortality on reducing livestock depredations in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming from 1987–2012 using a 25 year time series. The number of livestock depredated, livestock populations, wolf population estimates, number of breeding pairs, and wolves killed were calculated for the wolf-occupied area of each state for each year. The data were then analyzed using a negative binomial generalized linear model to test for the expected negative relationship between the number of livestock depredated in the current year and the number of wolves controlled the previous year. We found that the number of livestock depredated was positively associated with the number of livestock and the number of breeding pairs. However, we also found that the number of livestock depredated the following year was positively, not negatively, associated with the number of wolves killed the previous year. The odds of livestock depredations increased 4% for sheep and 5–6% for cattle with increased wolf control – up until wolf mortality exceeded the mean intrinsic growth rate of wolves at 25%. Possible reasons for the increased livestock depredations at ≤25% mortality may be compensatory increased breeding pairs and numbers of wolves following increased mortality. After mortality exceeded 25%, the total number of breeding pairs, wolves, and livestock depredations declined. However, mortality rates exceeding 25% are unsustainable over the long term. Lethal control of individual depredating wolves may sometimes necessary to stop depredations in the near-term, but we recommend that non-lethal alternatives also be considered.



Table 1. AIC and log-likelihood values for forward selection of main effects and interaction effects models of cattle depredations


In both models all of the main effects and some two way interactions were found to be statistically significant (Table 2). The number of wolves killed in year one was positively related to the number of cattle depredated the following year (rate ratios = 1.05, 1.05 and 1.06,z = 5.67 and 5.66, 4.69, P<0.001) (Figure 1). For each additional wolf killed the estimated mean number of cattle depredated the following year increased by 5 to 6%. The number of breeding pairs was also positively related to the number of cattle depredated (rate ratios = 1.08, 1.09 and 1.08, z = 6.28, 4.87 and 6.04, P = 0.0336 and <0.001) (Figure 2). For each additional breeding pair on the landscape the estimated mean number of cattle depredated the following year increased by 8 to 9%. Breeding pairs were highly correlated with numbers of wolves (Table S2).

Figure 1. Wolves killed vs cattle depredated.

Number of wolves killed through control methods the previous year versus the number of cattle depredated the following year. The dashed lines show the upper and lower limits of the 95% confidence interval for the best fit line.



Figure 2. Number of breeding pairs vs cattle depredated.

Number of breeding pairs present on the landscape the previous year versus the number of cattle depredated the following year. The dashed lines show the upper and lower limits of the 95% confidence interval for the best fit line.



Table 2. Summary of best model for cattle depredated.


There was also one important 2-way negative interaction for the relationship between the increasing numbers of wolves killed and decreasing breeding pairs on livestock depredations (rate ratios = 0.99, z = −5.39, −5.49 and −5.12, P<0.001. In our models, the main effects of wolves killed was increased depredations. But the negative interaction effect in the model shows that depredations ultimately declined with increased wolf kills as number of breeding pairs decreased. These conflicting effects on livestock depredations are represented here as proportion of wolves killed vs. cattle depredations in (Figure 3). Depredations increased with increasing wolf mortality up to about 25% mortality but then depredations declined when mortality exceeded 25%.


Figure 3. The proportion of wolves killed vs cattle depredated.

Proportion of wolves killed the previous year versus the number of cattle depredated the following year. The dashed lines show the upper and lower limits of the 95% confidence interval for the best fit line.


One model out of 53 (Table 3) was also selected for determining which factors may influence the number of sheep depredated the following year (Table 4). The model was g(y) = exp [−10.499+0.05539(minimum wolf population) +0.03883(wolves killed through control methods) +3.058×10−5(cattle) +2.077×10−4(sheep) – 5.116×10−4(wolves killed*wolf population) – 4.932×10−7(wolves killed*cattle) – 1.159×10−7(wolf population*cattle) – 3.712×10−6(wolves killed*sheep) – 6.827×10−7(wolf population*sheep) – 3.408×10−10(cattle*sheep) +6.532×10-10(wolves killed*wolf population*cattle) +4.819×10−9(wolves killed*wolf population*sheep) +3.682×10−12(wolves killed*cattle*sheep) – 4.336×10−15(wolves killed*wolf population*cattle*sheep)].

Table 3. AIC and log-likelihood values for forward selection of main effects and interaction effects models of sheep depredations.



Table 4. Summary of best following year sheep depredated models.


Both of the main effects and one interaction effect were significant in this model. Once again, the number of wolves killed was positively related to the number of sheep depredated the following year (rate ratio = 1.04, z = 2.218, P = 0.026) (Figure 4). For each additional wolf killed the estimated mean number of sheep being depredated the following year increased by 4%. The minimum wolf population was also positively related to the number of sheep depredated the following year (rate ratio = 1.06, z = 3.220, P = 0.001) (Figure 5). For each additional wolf on the landscape the estimated mean number of sheep being depredated the following year increased by 6%. The number of cattle and sheep were found to be positively related to the number of sheep depredated but the coefficient was negligible (rate ratios = 1.00 and 1.00, z = 4.718 and 3.320, P = <0.001 and 0.001) which results in an increase of sheep depredated the following year by 1.00 or less than 1%. However, as with cattle, there was an important 2-way negative interaction. Sheep depredations increased with increasing wolf mortality rate up until about 25%, then depredations began to decline after mortality exceeded 25% (Figure 6).

Figure 4. Wolves killed vs sheep depredated.

Number of wolves killed through control methods the previous year versus the number of sheep depredated the following year. The dashed lines show the upper and lower limits of the 95% confidence interval for the best fit line.



Figure 5. Minimum wolf population vs sheep depredated.

Minimum year end wolf population the previous year versus the number of sheep depredated the following year. The dashed lines show the upper and lower limits of the 95% confidence interval for the best fit line.



Figure 6. Proportion of wolves controlled versus the number of sheep depredated.

Proportions of wolves killed through control methods the previous year versus the number of sheep depredated the following year. The dashed lines show the upper and lower limits of the 95% confidence interval for the best fit line.



Our results do not support the “remedial control” hypothesis of predator mortality on livestock depredations the following year. However, lethal control of wolves appears to be related to increased depredations in a larger area the following year. Our results are supported by the findings of Harper et al. (2008) in Minnesota where they found that across the state (large scale) none of their correlations supported the hypothesis that killing a high number of wolves reduced the following year’s depredations. Harper et al also found that trapping and not catching wolves decreased depredations more than no trapping at all, suggesting that a mere increase in human activity at depredation sites reduced further depredations by those wolves in their study area. By contrast, Bjorge and Gunson (1985) found reducing the population from 40 to 3 wolves in 2 years in Alberta (a 10 fold reduction to near extirpation) resulted in a decline of livestock depredations for two years – followed by subsequent recolonization and increased depredations thereafter. Tompa (1983) also found that lethal control prevented conflict for more than a year in some areas of British Columbia. It should be noted that these 2 studies examined wolf control and livestock depredations at a fine scale (grazing allotment or wolf pack territory or management zone). They did not examine wolf control and livestock depredations at a larger scale (wolf occupied areas) as was done by Harper et al. (2008) and us (this study). It appears that wolf control is associated with reduced depredations at the local wolf pack scale but increased depredations at the larger wolf population scale. This appears consistent with Treves et al. (2005) prediction that the removal of carnivores generally only achieves a temporary reduction in livestock depredations locally when immigrants can rapidly fill the vacancies.
There were several different factors that influenced the number of livestock depredated the following year by wolves. In order of importance, based on the values of the rate ratios, these include: the number of wolves removed through control methods, the number of breeding pairs, the minimum wolf population, and the number of livestock on the landscape. Consistent with expectations, each additional breeding pair on the landscape increased the expected mean number of cattle depredated by 8 to 9% and each additional wolf on the landscape increased the expected mean number of sheep depredated by 6%. Cattle were most affected by breeding pairs and sheep by wolves – perhaps because it takes more than one wolf (a pack) to kill a relatively larger cow and only one wolf to kill a smaller sheep. However, contrary to the “remedial control” hypothesis, each additional wolf killed increased the expected mean number of livestock depredated by 5–6% for cattle and 4% for sheep. It appears that lethal wolf control to reduce the number of livestock depredated is associated with increased, not decreased, depredations the following year, on a large scale – at least until wolf mortality exceeds 25%. Why 25%? The observed mean intrinsic growth rate of wolves in Idaho, Wyoming, and Montana is about 25% [21]. Therefore, once anthropogenic mortality exceeds 25%, the numbers of breeding pairs and wolves must decline – resulting in fewer livestock depredations.
Below 25% mortality, lethal control may increase breeding pairs and wolves through social disruption and compensatory, density dependent effects. For example, wolf control efforts occur year round and often peak during grazing season in areas with livestock depredations[22], [23]. However, if control takes place during the breeding season and a member of the breeding pair is removed it may lead to pack instability and increased breeding pairs [24], [10]. Furthermore, loss of a breeder in a pack during or near breeding season can result in dissolution of territorial social groups, smaller pack sizes and compensatory density dependent effects – such as increased per-capita reproduction [11], [25], [26]. Culling of wolves may also cause frequent breeder turnover [11] and related social disruption – which can result in reduced effective prey use (through loss of knowledge of prey sources and ability to subdue prey) which may also result in increased livestock depredations [27], [28]. All of these effects could potentially result in increased livestock depredations.
We would expect to see increased depredations, wolves killed, and breeding pairs as the wolf population grows and recolonizes the area – but our data suggest that lethal control exacerbates these increases. The secondary effects of time, wolf population growth rate, wolf occupied area, and wolf population size on depredations were already subsumed in the primary main effect terms of breeding pairs (cattle) and wolves (sheep), so those secondary effects cannot account for the positive effects of wolf kills on depredations. We do not yet know the exact mechanism of how increased wolf mortality up to ≤25% results in increased livestock depredations, but we do know that increased mortality is associated with compensatory increased breeding pairs, compensatory numbers of wolves, and depredations [24], [10], [27],[28], [11], [26]. Further research is needed to determine the exact causal mechanism(s). Annual mortality in excess of 25% will reduce future depredations, but that mortality rate is unsustainable and cannot be carried out indefinitely if federal relisting of wolves is to be avoided. Furthermore, a 5% (sheep) and 5% (cattle) kill rate of wolves yields the same number of cattle and sheep depredations as a 35% (cattle) and 30% (sheep) kill rate (Figures 3 & 6), but the 30% or 35% rate is unsustainable for wolf population persistence and the 5% rate is not. The worst possible case appears to be a high mortality rate at about 20–25%, since this corresponds to a “standing wave” of the highest livestock depredations. Further research is needed to test if this high level of anthropogenic wolf mortality (25%) is associated with high levels of predation on natural prey such as deer and elk.
Further research is also needed to account for the limitations of our data set. The scale of our analysis was large (wolf occupied areas in each state in each year) and the scale of some other studies were small (wolf packs). Simultaneous, multi-scale analysis (individual wolf packs, wolf management zones, and wolf occupied areas) may yield further insights.
Although lethal control is sometimes a necessary management tool in the near-term, we suggest that managers also consider testing non-lethal methods of wolf control [29] because these methods might not be associated with increased depredations in the long-term.

Supporting Information

Figure_S1.tif1 / 4

Proportion of wolves harvested vs cattle depredated. Proportion of wolves harvested the previous year in each state (Montana, Idaho and Wyoming) versus the number of cattle depredated the following year.

Figure S1.

Proportion of wolves harvested vs cattle depredated. Proportion of wolves harvested the previous year in each state (Montana, Idaho and Wyoming) versus the number of cattle depredated the following year.



Figure S2.

Proportion of wolves harvested vs sheep depredated. Proportion of wolves harvested the previous year in each state (Montana, Idaho and Wyoming) versus the number of sheep depredated the following year.



Table S1.

Data by state, 1987–2012. Data for all variables used in the analysis grouped by state from 1987–2012.



Table S2.

Pearson correlation matrix. Pearson correlation matrix for independent variables: cattle, sheep, minimum wolf population, wolves harvested and number of breeding pairs.




This analysis and paper benefitted from the insights and comments of Hilary Cooley (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service), and John Pierce, Donny Martorello, Brian Kertsen, Ben Maletzke, and Stephanie Simick (Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife).

Author Contributions

Conceived and designed the experiments: RBW KAP. Performed the experiments: RBW KAP. Analyzed the data: RBW KAP. Contributed reagents/materials/analysis tools: RBW KAP. Wrote the paper: RBW KAP.


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Why Killing Wolves Might Not Save Livestock New study fuels debate over how to reduce attacks on cows and sheep.   1 comment

From:  National Geographic News

A photo of wolves killed by wildlife officials after the animals attacked cattle in Montana.

The remains of wolves killed by wildlife officials hang over the side of a truck in Montana in 2004. These animals, which were not part of the Huckleberry Pack, were killed because they attacked cattle.


In late August, a government sharpshooter in a helicopter hovering above a wooded eastern Washington hillsidekilled the lead female wolf of the Huckleberry Pack. The aim was to end attacks by the wolf pack, which had killed more than two dozen sheep.

But in the long run, a shooting like this could just make matters worse. A new study has found that—paradoxically—killing a wolf can increase the risk that wolves will prey on livestock in the future.

The research, published today in the scientific journal PLOS One, flies in the face of the common idea that the swiftest and surest way to deal with wolves threatening livestock is by shooting the predators. It adds to a growing understanding of how humans influence the complex dynamics driving these pack animals, sometimes with unexpected consequences.

As wolves spread across the West, triggering more encounters with sheep and cattle, and as two states host wolf-hunting seasons, the new research also adds more fuel to an already heated political debate about how to deal with wolves.

“The livestock industry, they’re not going to be happy with this,” said Rob Wielgus, a Washington State University ecologist and the study’s lead author.

Back From the Brink

Shooting wolves is a long-standing practice in the ranching world. It helped lead to the animal’s eradication in the western United States in the 1930s. Since the wolf’s reintroduction in the mid-1990s, government officials and ranchers have frequently reached for a gun to cope with livestock problems—killing more than 2,000 wolves by 2013.

In 2011, wolves were removed from federal protection under the Endangered Species Act in Idaho, Montana, and parts of Washington, Oregon, and Utah. (Wyoming got a similar stamp of approval in 2012, but a federal judge recently overturned that decision.) That has made it easier to shoot wolves—Idaho and Montana now even allow recreational hunting.

But there have never been any large-scale studies of whether killing wolves really helps protect livestock.

Enter Wielgus. He has a track record for turning conventional wisdom on its head when it comes to attempts to control predators. In 2008 he made news with research that found shooting cougars led to more attacks on livestock. When mature adults were killed, Wielgus said, less seasoned adolescents moved in and were more likely to prey on cows and sheep.

After wolves arrived in Washington in 2008, growing to 13 packs by 2013, Wielgus turned his attention to the newest carnivore on the block. He examined 25 years of data on killing of wolves and cases where wolves attacked cattle and sheep in Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming—the first states where wolves were reintroduced.

Gray Wolves

Gray Wolves (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What the Data Say

Wielgus found that when a wolf was killed, the chances of livestock getting killed increased the following year in that state—by 5 to 6 percent for cattle and 4 percent for sheep. With each additional wolf killed, the chance of livestock attacks rose further. The trend didn’t reverse until more than a quarter of the wolves in the state were killed in a single year. Then livestock losses started to decline.

That level of wolf-killing happened several times even while wolves were federally protected, under rules that allowed shooting of wolves that threatened livestock. And it is happening now in Idaho and Montana. Last year, hunters killed 231 wolves in Montana and 356 in Idaho, helping to reduce the population to slightly more than 600 in each state. The Idaho legislature this year created a Wolf Depredation Control Board, a move critics say is aimed at pushing wolf numbers down to just above 150—a cutoff that could trigger renewed protection under the Endangered Species Act.

Wielgus isn’t certain why more livestock die when smaller numbers of wolves are killed. But he suspects it’s tied to changes in pack behavior. Packs are led by a male and female breeding pair. If one or both of those wolves is killed, the pack can break up, giving rise to several breeding pairs—and thus an uptick in the wolf population. Livestock losses decline only when enough wolves are killed to overwhelm their ability to keep up through reproduction.

The theory fits observations made in and around Yellowstone National Park. Wolf packs inside the park—where wolves aren’t shot—are large and complex, with wolves of a variety of ages living together, said Doug Smith, a lead wolf researcher at Yellowstone. Wolf packs elsewhere tend to be just a breeding pair and pups.

For Wielgus, the upshot of his study is that while killing a wolf might sometimes be necessary, as a routine practice it’s counterproductive and unsustainable. Either livestock losses go up or, if enough wolves are killed to reduce livestock deaths, wolf numbers eventually drop so low that wolves wind up back on the endangered species list. If the killing slows to less than 25 percent of the wolf population per year, his study suggests, depredation rates shoot back up.

“It’s a bit of a catch-22,” Wielgus said. “You can reduce them now, but you can only reduce them so far, and when you stop that heavy harvest, now you’re at maximum livestock depredation.”

Is There Another Way?

Reaction to the new study was split down predictable fault lines. Wolf conservationists pointed to it as evidence that shooting wolves to save livestock usually doesn’t make sense. “You have this very archaic paradigm of kill first, ask questions later,” said Suzanne Stone, senior northwest representative for the environmental group Defenders of Wildlife. Overall, people in the livestock industry are “still pretty rigid in their views that the only way to deal with predators is to kill them. And that’s not true. It actually works against them.”

Stone has run a program with sheep growers in one Idaho valley aimed at finding ways for sheep and wolves to coexist. The ranchers there resort to a number of tactics to protect roughly 30,000 sheep: monitoring wolves to avoid grazing the sheep near denning sites, using guard dogs, flashing bright lights to scare off wolves, stringing a wire hung with small strips of fabric around the flock at night, and increasing the number of people herding the animals.

Stone said the program is cheaper than dispatching a gunman in a helicopter. Fewer than 30 sheep have been lost to wolves in seven years, and no wolves have been killed.

Stan Boyd, executive director of the Idaho Wool Growers Association, said his group works with members to help them deter wolves without shooting the animals. But he still sees guns as critical tools, and he says wolf problems have declined recently as the number of Idaho wolves has gone down.

“Wolves get into livestock, we kill the wolves. And that works well,” Boyd said. “The professor can say whatever he wants. We’re not going to just let wolves run wild.”

In Washington state, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which paid for Wielgus’s research, is waiting for him to complete a broader examination of all options for managing wolves, said John Pierce, the agency’s chief wildlife scientist. “In the long run, we definitely would prefer to do nonlethal removal if we can figure out how it works,” Pierce said.

Meanwhile, all eyes are on the Huckleberry Pack. In the aftermath of the shooting of the lead female, will fewer sheep die in wolf attacks—or more?

Wolf cull backfires as wild canines feast on farm animals   Leave a comment

From:  The Conversation

Wolves, lions and other large carnivores rely on meat for sustenance and there are only so many wild animals to go round. Sometimes, dinner means cow or sheep.

Farmers can use guard dogs or protective fencing to deter predators and protect livestock. But lethal methods such as hunting and trapping are also used to control wild carnivore numbers.

As a livestock farmer in wolf country, it would be reasonable to assume that killing more predators would result in fewer attacks on your animals. However, a new study by Washington State University has turned this assumption on its head by discovering the opposite: the more wolves that are killed (up to a threshold of 25% of the population), the more the remainder preyed on local sheep and cows. Why is this?

Unpicking the pack

The researchers, Robert Wielgus and Kaylie Peebles, point to the nature of the species’ social systems: wolves live in family groups containing a breeding pair (also known as the alpha pair) along with related sub-adults, juveniles and pups. The alphas are the only breeders within the group as they limit reproduction by their subordinates.

Killing one of the alphas disrupts the pack and subordinate wolves, who often outnumber the breeders, are then free to reproduce. This could increase the number of breeding individuals in the area, thereby increasing the population of hungry wolves – maybe farmers who shoot wolves are inadvertently doing more towards conservation than they think!

Wolves take on a Bison. NPS

Conversely, as humans are more likely to shoot youngsters than adult breeding wolves, the alphas may be temporarily be in a more favourable situation. There would be less competition for food, fewer clashes with other wolves and less risk of the transmission of disease. Again, this could result in short-term increases in attacks on livestock.

Wolf packs also have an important educational role, as the experienced wolves pass on their knowledge. Killing them impairs this social learning. If the rest of the pack hasn’t learnt the skills necessary to take on bison or elk they may instead turn towards easier pickings on the farm.

This same behaviour has been seen in lions and cougars (although has not been documented in many other carnivore species).

When culls go wrong

It is interesting to note that this paradoxical finding is not just found in relation to wolves – lethal control of cougars (or mountain lions) also means the remainder kill more cows and sheep as younger, inexperienced cougars are more likely to attack livestock.

Coyote vs sheep. USDA

Coyotes also show increased litter sizes and more frequent breeding in populations that were lethally controlled. Culling programmes could have even exacerbated livestock attacks by taking out younger, less predatory coyotes. Further, state-funded coyote removal campaigns have failed to reduce predation on sheep. Lynx, too, do not significantly reduce livestock attacks until lethal control dramatically reduces total population numbers.

It must be noted that other studies have shown that killing predators can sometimes reduce the numbers of livestock they themselves kill, but this is only temporary, until new populations of predators establish themselves.

What to do about wolves?

If we would like a world where neither livestock nor predators are killed, we are either going to have to take away all the predators or all the livestock. Clearly neither one of these options is viable so we must aim to reduce preying on farm animals to a tolerable level.

Should’ve ordered the lamb. Denali NPS

Despite proof that changes inlivestock husbandryreduces predation, farmers may still not want these creatures living near them as they may feel that the carnivores have “won” or taken over “their” land.

As such, despite scientific evidence showing that predators don’t kill that many cattle anyway, that lethal control usually doesn’t reduce attacks, and that non-lethal methods can almost eliminate attacks, this still may not be enough to sway farmers from their anti-predator mind-sets.

We must therefore start to think outside the box. Much of this conflict between humans and wild predators is not really about protecting livestock, but instead concerns a deeper historic and cultural aversion to wolves, lions and other scary carnivores. This won’t be fixed through simple technical solutions – and we now know it certainly won’t be fixed with a gun.



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