Friday, September 9, 2016

Not persuaded by wolf hunting argument

Posted: September 7, 2016
It’s been argued that there are good reasons to hunt wolves, but research suggests otherwise, writes Kevin Keller.

There are good reasons to kill a wolf. If a rancher is protecting his cattle from a wolf pack, or if a hiker is protecting her life from an (almost always) rabid wolf, then the killing is easy to justify.
The arguments in favor of hunting wolves, however, are not always so persuasive.

One common argument is that wolves lower the elk population. This is true. Wolves are predators, and the elk prey. The populations of the other ungulates, such as the moose and the mule deer and the pronghorn antelope have also fallen.

Yet the wolf also ensures a healthy elk herd. The wolf kills the vulnerable, the diseased and the weak from the herd, which allows the stronger and superior genes to pass on to the next generation.
The hunter kills the strongest, the largest and the most robust of the herd. Killing the trophy bull, for example, often prevents any further genetic gifting to the offspring. And if the wolf is removed, the rise in the ungulate populations will cause great harm to the vegetation—from overgrazing and over trampling—which in turn will cause great harm to the flora and fauna and thus to the overall wellbeing of the ecosystem.

Biologists call this “trophic cascade,” and there are records from Yellowstone, after the wolves were removed in 1926, showing its effects. “The range was in deplorable conditions when we first saw it, and its deterioration has been progressing steadily since then,” wrote a team of scientists in 1933.
It’s said that wolves kill for fun. Dr. David Mech, wolf biologist for 58 years and a lifelong hunter, says simply: “They don’t hunt for fun. They hunt for food.” Wolves risk having ribs broken, teeth shattered, and legs cracked from striking hooves.

Many also say the former Idaho gray wolf was much smaller and less aggressive than the gray wolf brought here in 1995 and 1996. Yet the difference between these two subspecies (the Canis lupus irremotus and the Canis lupus occidentalis) is minimal, if not nonexistent.

Moreover, the division of wolves into subspecies is debated. Decades ago, the gray wolf divided into 24 subspecies. Today it’s five. Wolves travel far and breed with other subspecies, as suspected of the relevant two, and often dirty any attempt for a clear distinction.

Even the concession made in the first paragraph for ranchers to kill wolves is in question.
Robert Wielgus of Washington State University and data analyst Kaylie Peebles researched the effects of killing wolves in response to livestock depredation. The study shows a 5 to 6 percent increase in cattle deaths and a 4 percent increase in sheep deaths following the wolf kills. This is likely due to alpha males and females being killed, which can cause the packs to break up, leaving adolescent wolves taking bigger risks, such as entering rancher lands more often. As a result, many ranchers are using non-lethal ways to divert wolves.

Last year, the Department of Fish and Game released the Annual Wolf Report that shows consistency with the research above and the use of non-lethal wolf control. “The number of cattle and sheep lost to wolf depredation was below the average of the last 10 years, as was the number of wolves killed in response to depredations.”

Ever and anon the wolf debate continues.

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