Drought is wolves’ ally in hunt for park elk. Lack of precipitation is a big factor in Yellowstone’s declining wapiti numbers. By Cory Hatch. Jackson Hole News and Guide.

“The range [condition] in Yellowstone going into this winter is the worst I’ve ever seen,” Smith said.

 
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About The Author

Ralph Maughan

Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University with specialties in natural resource politics, public opinion, interest groups, political parties, voting and elections. Aside from academic publications, he is author or co-author of three hiking/backpacking guides, and he is President of the Western Watersheds Project.

42 Responses to Drought is wolves' ally in hunt for park elk.

  1. avatar Robert Hoskins says:

    This is an important story because it lays out pretty well just how complex the relationship between wolves and elk really is. What we’re dealing with is a very complex relationship. It isn’t just predator prey ecology, but it’s predator-prey-habitat-climate ecology.

    This is precisely the thing that the anti-wolfers refuse to understand. No doubt there will be many comments pooh-poohing this report. We will hear from hunters that the scientists are spending all their time in from of computers and don’t have the land knowledge that people on the land have. Well, that’s rubbish.

  2. avatar Linda Hunter says:

    I have been reading the website for the study of wolves in Isla Royale and it really has the most information I have been able to find about the complex world wolves life in. . anyone who thinks wolves need to be managed should take a good long look into this site. . yes it is wolves and moose but they have years of data . . the moose population goes up, the wolf population goes up, the moose population goes down, the wolf population goes down . . the ticks the weather , the vegetation the other animals. .it all plays a role. Wolves are their own predators whenever their are too many of them.
    The sight’s URL is: http://www.islaroyalewolf.org

  3. avatar Layton says:

    Studying and reporting on the relationship between the moose and wolves on Isle Royale has been the flagship of wolf advocates for as long as I can remember. It certainly is a well documented scientific effort by now.

    However, just what it has to do with the relationship with wolves and elk herds in the Northwest is certainly open to conjecture.

    The moose on Isle Royale have only one “apex” predator to deal with — unless you count the ticks and mosquitos. Elk in the Nortwest on the other hand have to deal with cats, bears, coyotes, hunters and, as a recent addition, wolves.

    Isn’t that comparing apples and oranges??

    By the way Linda, this link will work better to that study.

    http://isleroyalewolf.org/

    Layton

  4. avatar JB says:

    Linda:

    Actually, the data show little relationship at all between wolf populations and moose populations, in part, it would seem because of the introduction of Canine Parvovirus, which decimated wolves on Isle Royal for a time.

    Layton says: “Elk in the Nortwest on the other hand have to deal with cats, bears, coyotes, hunters and, as a recent addition, wolves.”

    If you’re suggesting that wolves will be the straw that breaks the elk’s back–so to speak, then you’re assuming that wolf-caused mortality is additive, not compensatory. That is, you assume that wolves are not competing with other predators for these game, and thus their addition to the ecosystem results in more elk deaths–I don’t believe you can make this assumption. More and more research suggests that the primary factor limiting populations is availability of food.

    I disagree strongly with the title of this article. I think the correspondence between the drought and wolf reintroductions has made wolves a convenient scape goat for those who want to blame them for the decline, which could be to the long-term detriment of wolves.

  5. avatar Ronnie says:

    I agree with you Robert when you mentioned predator-prey-habitat-climate ecology; however, Humans are possibly the most complicated part of that ecology and humans as a whole have lost the art of sound communication and problem solving, falling back on violence and anger as a quick substitute. There are a few people getting together and trying to come up with compromise and I feel that if we can get away from the extreme polar opposites and get the moderates to continue coming to the table, we might just be able to come up with some sound wolf management…..
    Unfortunately, when the states take over management,, I believe there are going to be many wolves dying in the near future both legally and even more illegally. I sure hope I’m wrong on this one though!!

  6. avatar Layton says:

    JB,

    Why would wolf caused mortality to elk herds here in the Nothwest be anything but additive? What basis would you have to call it compensatory?

    Layton

  7. Layton,

    Without going into the traditional explanations of compensatory mortality, in Idaho, many wolf packs live almost exclusively on the remains of the human hunt during the periods when lots of hunters are in the woods. Non-wilderness area wolves also eat a lot of road kill, especially in the winter.

    So when people say the average wolf kills 12 elk a year, they should really say the wolf eats 12 the equivalent of 12 elk a year. In some packs, perhaps 50%? of their nutrition comes from animals already dead or injured and going to die.

  8. avatar Don Riley says:

    The big game survival study being conducted by IDGF has a simple, non-scientific and understandable definition of additive/compensatory mortality.

    The results posted are for 2005 only and they do not appear to make any determination as to the A/C question. Idaho says that they use necropsy to determine cause specific mortality but the posted results do not address A/C.

    Perhaps more interesting, considering Idaho’s position on wolf management, is the fact that wolf caused mortality is only 24% of total elk mortality in 2005. That amounts to 13 elk of the 337 elk being tracked. (lions got 12). If one accepts IDGF’s contention that the study is broad enough to allow them to apply the results state wide, the wolves will get 39 elk out of 1,000.

    The results I can find are for 1 year only, do not include bulls, which appear to be targeted by predators in the weeks following the rut so I don’t think any definitive judgment can be made at this time.

    One wonders what the 2006 & 2007 results are and why can’t wolf management decisions be held off until those ressults and made public.

    http://fishandgame.idaho.gov/cms/wildlife/manage_issues/ung/

  9. avatar Linda Hunter says:

    JB thank you . . you are right – it looks like the relationship is there on the surface. I have tried to read some of the proposed management plans, however, and it seems to me that it is people who need mangement. I would love to see another study of wolves where there wasn’t any management to see how wolves solve their own problems. Humans always want to mess with things. Way out in the wilderness where humans usually don’t go there was a salmon stream partially blocked by rocks making the salmon really work for access to their spawning grounds . . someone I was with immediately wanted to move the rocks for the fish. Without thought, that person decided it would be better. I could see that then all the fish would gain access, the bears would have a harder time catching the salmon, and the nutrients that the bears leave around the forest would be lost to the deep waters of the lake and the timing of the nutrients to the mix would be different. Human nature always thinks what they are doing is for the better. Unfortunately we still know so little about our earth we can only accidentially do something right once in a great while.

  10. avatar Monte Bruhn says:

    I find these comments to be interesting to say the least, as a hunter/outdoorsman I believe your wolves are here to stay. However a little blackmail from our U.S. Fish and Wildlife on wolf re-introduction, 10 breeding packs was to be the minimum threshold not the 70-80 breeding packs we are told we have today. If a public lands rancher ran 7-8 times more livestock than his permits allow where would he be? In jail or definitely off his range. Wolves need to managed at the target level that was first sought, not many times that number. As far as wolves consuming hunter killed gut piles, I’ve yet to see any tracks around a hunters kill. The eagles, ravens, magpies and other birds do a excellent job from my experience. The habitat is a limiting factor for any wildlife species and it appears that wolves have pushed their own envelope and livestock,pets and possibly human conflicts will increase due to their increase in numbers.

  11. The minimum was 30 breeding pairs, well distributed in the 3 recovery zones.

    Because 30 breeding pairs was a minimum, your analogy of a rancher running 7-8 times over his grazing permits is a logical error.

    The grazing permits state a maximum number of livestock. A rancher running 7 to 8 times over the maximum is not the same as the recovery of an animal that is 7-8 times (using your figure) over the minimum.

    You might not have seen any tracks around gut piles, but the heavy use of gut piles by wolves has been remarked on numerous times by wildlife biologists studying the wolves, and I have reported this in specific areas by specific packs many times over the last decade.

    Wolves in fact prefer many of the internal organs to the “red meat,” and they eat them first. Ron Gillete’s asserted that wolves “eat red meat 365 days a year” is flat out wrong. The prefer red meat secondarily and wolf packs do not hunt every day. The gorge and then sleep. Most of time is not spent hunting as anyone who has watched wolves in Yellowstone can tell you.

    I don’t see any evidence that wolves have pushed the envelope for their habitat because overall in wolf habit, elk and Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming are doing fine to excellent. The predicted decline in hunter success has not taken place. In the few cases where wolf caused decline is asserted by some, like the upper Clearwater, many biologists blame the mature coniferous habitat and a bad age distribution of bull elk for low elk populations, but recent figures even here show improvement. One can’t cherry pick the data, not that I am saying your are, but some do and focus only on herds that are declining. There are always some of these.

    I don’t see any evidence that human conflicts are increasing, but then what do we mean by “conflict?” Livestock deaths are trivial compared to other causes of livestock death, including predation.

  12. avatar JB says:

    Linda says, “it is people who need mangement.”

    I couldn’t agree more! The whole notion of “wildlife management” is a misnomer–wildlife managers generally spend most of their time dealing with people and their issues, not wildlife.

    Dave Mech and colleagues wrote a book about studies they did in Denali NP in Alaska. If I remember correctly, they found the number one cause of wolf mortality was wolves; that is, when wolf populations exceeded carrying capacity, indirect competition turned to direct conflict.

    This is the sort of thing the anti-wolfers can’t seem to grasp. Predators are limited by their food supply the same as ungulates–when food supplies go down, competition for food and direct conflict among/between predators increases. Thus, populations are “naturally” (I hate using that particular word) limited.

  13. avatar JB says:

    Monte:
    Are you actually arguing that wolves won’t take advantage of a free meal? They are hunters and scavengers by nature: to assert that wolves won’t eat our waste (that is our gutpiles, poorly shot animals, road killed deer, etc.) defies logic. Put yourself in a wolf’s…”shoes” for a moment. You could try and chase down an elk and expend lots of energy and maybe even get kicked in the head for your effort, or you could simply feed off of this wonderful pile of food that someone has left for you on the side of the road.

  14. avatar timz says:

    My friend shot an elk this fall and while he was gutting it a wolf walked to about 25 yards of him, sat down and patiently waited for him to finish and went right for the gut pile as they left.

  15. avatar Monty says:

    Question: is Yellowstone & general area having a “good snow winter”? In Oregon, at least where I live, the snow pack is the best in 20 years. Some areas in the mountains have received a total of 24 feet of snow & it keeps coming..

  16. avatar Robert Hoskins says:

    Regarding TimZ’s comment, it’s clear that wolves are gentlemen. A grizzly would have just walked up and taken it all.

  17. avatar Buffaloed says:

    All areas in Yellowstone are above average for snowpack which is good but on top of such a harsh drought the ungulates going into this hard winter are going to have an especially tough time.

    Here is a link to the snowpack data for Montana:
    http://users.frii.com/global-cgi-bin/cgiwrap/cpacheco/work/prec/prec_update_1.cgi?area=mont&format=1

    Madison 114%
    Gallatin 110%
    Upper Yellowstone 110%

    Wyoming:
    http://www.wrds.uwyo.edu/wrds/nrcs/snowprec/snowprec.html

    Upper Snake 108%
    Upper Yellowstone-Madison 120%

  18. avatar Monte Bruhn says:

    Excuse me for the 10 packs v.s. the 30 packs, I was referring to Idaho only. We were told that this was the minimum objective, you are correct, unfortunately there wasn’t a maximum limit set. The limiting factor will be the food source and yes then what will wolves eat. They have already encroached on more populated area such as the Boise foothills during the winter. Also what defines human conflict, I guess a rancher not being able to turn his cows and calves out of the corrals on his own property. A homeowner losing a beloved pet on their property as well. As far as the gut pile issue goes, I’m just saying what I’ve personally observed in ten years of hunting in wolf popualted areas.

  19. avatar Robert Hoskins says:

    Let’s be clear; the 10 breeding pairs per state was intended solely as a trigger for delisting. It is not legally a minimum or a maximum population objective. Read the EIS, or my extended earlier comment on this website regarding the confusion over “how many wolves is enough.”

    The ecologically appropriate response to that question is, wolves will decide how many wolves are too many–they and their food base.

    I’m not sure what it means for wolves to “encroach on populated areas.” Rather, it’s the other way around; populated areas have encroached on wildlife habitat.

    Conflicts with wolves are mostly a consequence of people failing/refusing to adapt to the new conditions of wolf presence. As has been discussed above, wildlife management is more appropriately people management.

  20. avatar JB says:

    Monte: Perhaps wolf densities are so low where you’ve been hunting that no wolves have encountered the gut pile?

    Idaho is roughly 83,600 square miles and there are ~700 wolves (or roughly 1 wolf per 120 square miles). They’re not exactly eating you out of house and home.

  21. avatar JEFF E says:

    to address specifically the “conflicts with human question”. As far as livestock producers are concerned, and talking only of perdition, the percentage caused by wolves is so slight overall that it is almost never broken down as a separate category. This is not to say that individual events are not costly and emotionally draining, but the two seniors in which that happens, on public or private land, need to be examined. In my opinion, because of the obscene level of subsidising for public lands grazing, whining about losses, from whatever the cause, gets absolutely zero sympathy in my book. On private land, the owner should be able to protect his/her property, period. however what is almost never mentioned is the fact that, as a business, livestock operators claim losses on taxes that cover such, in addition too any compensation by private of public agencies.
    As far pets, I think the average person would be very surprised at the number of pets lost to coyotes, fox, Raccoons, owls, hawks, etc. Again those lost to wolves is minuscule and if we are talking about those lost in the “wild” the chance of it being from a cause other than wolves is exponentially greater and again a individual should realize that life happens and sometimes is not all peaches and cream.

  22. avatar JEFF E says:

    sorry, seniors should be scenarios.

  23. avatar Layton says:

    Robert wrote,

    “I’m not sure what it means for wolves to “encroach on populated areas.” Rather, it’s the other way around; populated areas have encroached on wildlife habitat.

    Sooooooo, I’ve been wanting to address this just a bit, this seems like a good lead in.

    Is the desirable situation REALLY that, whenever or however wolves are present — humans and all their animals (pets and hounds and livestock) become the “interlopers”?

    I’ve noticed a lot of comments to that effect. Comments that reference hound hunters not putting dogs out when there is a wolf pack in the area, pet owners having to keep their pets penned up because the wolves are about, people not walking with their dogs where a wolf pack might be around, etc., etc.

    Do you folks really think that when a wolf pack claims a territory for it’s own, that humans no longer belong there?

    Layton

  24. avatar PX says:

    I will not attempt to answer your last question Layton (Taking a position on this question encourages some to say “Those wolve lovers put priority on animals not on humans”. We had that on the famous BILLINGS Gazette already and we do not need this here). I´ll just add a little story. Recently I had a discussion with a friend from Romania I had not seen for a few years. “We have too many bears in our area” he claimed and “They create lot´s of troubles”. This surprised me because in this area there has never been a discussion about “too many”, wolves or bears or whatever. How comes, you suddenly have “too many”? It turned out at the end, that the bears have not been exceptionally fertile over the years. Their overall numbers remaining quite stable on roughly the same level. Their habitat in this local community shrank by about 40% in the meantime! Humans building a road here, logging the woods there, expand villages with the upturn of the economy…… And suddenly you´ve got CONFLICT!
    Now , is it ethical to say, hey, I, the human, I´m priority 1 on this globe and those wolves and bears (and lions and elephants and and and….depending on where you live – do not forget snakes) have to leave because of my presence? An opinion I found on many occasions on this and other blogs (One commentary used to simply say “Sorry, but the wolves and bears have lost out “). Or does somebody (very, very unlikely) really have such grandeur to say: “Ok, we humans have taken too much in the meantime, Now let´s release some territory for wildlife. We humans do not have to leave our footprint on every square foot of this planet”. I could tell you similar stories about tiger and leopard conservation in Russia, in Asia. I strongly agree with Robert, it´s humans encroaching on wildlife, not the other way round, definitely not! But for some this opinion is a taboo. Here in Germany, we have a chance at the moment, but I´m sure we will let it slip. People from the eastern part of the country (the former GDR) are on a large scale migration to the west for jobs, leaving many empty villages and large desolate areas in the east. So why not leave these areas empty or even demolish existing and no longer needed infrastructure for the benefit of nature?

  25. avatar JB says:

    “Do you folks really think that when a wolf pack claims a territory for it’s own, that humans no longer belong there?”

    No, not in the least–but nor should their presence in or near urban/suburban areas be an immediate trigger for control. Don’t get me wrong, I think controls will need to be tougher in/near urban/suburban areas. However, people also need to learn to adapt to the presence of wolves the same way that people living in areas reclaimed by the black bear have had to adapt.

    Regarding pets: People should have their dogs and cats behind fences to begin with, not roaming free to kill wildlife. If you let your pets run free you shouldn’t be surprised when your cat gets gobbled up by a coyote, fido gets killed by wolves, or hit by a car.

  26. avatar Jay says:

    Or shot by a neighbor who has seen the neighbor’s cat killin songbirds on his/her property one too many times, or the the loose neighbor dogs running deer down, or chasing horses, etc. 😉

  27. avatar Layton says:

    I’m not talking about loose dogs or “immediate control” here, sorry to give that impression. What I am talking about is — if I go for a walk in the woods, and I have my dog on a leash or under close control — or , heaven forbid, if I take grand kids with me — if a wolf or wolves come near me or acts in any way belligerent — let’s just say that they do it at their IMMEDIATE peril. The same goes if I am hunting with a dog. I hunt grouse in the woods quite often.

    Not trying to sound like I would be looking for trouble, but ANY potential trouble maker/predator (two or 4 legged) would elicit the same response.

    Wolves should be taught that there are places they DO NOT belong. I do think that people should be able to walk freely, with their dogs, on an air force base — even if it is in Alaska.

    Or, what about things like happened on Elk Creek in the Payette Nat’l Forest south of Riggins last summer?? One day folks see a lone wolf, a big black one prowling in the vicinity. Next morning there are three dead dogs IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD! Private property, fences, houses, kids, etc.

    JMHO

    Layton

  28. avatar JB says:

    Layton,

    I agree with you completely…well, almost. The wolves you refer to in Alaska should’ve been shot long before, when it was clear they had become a problem. And the same goes for any wolf that is acting in a threatening manner to people. This happens very infrequently, and I don’t think killing these individuals would have any negative impact on wolf populations. I think everyone can agree that we don’t want a repeat of the cougar problem that Boulder had during the 90s.

    Where I think we might differ is how wolves should be treated on federal lands. If someone runs loose dogs on federal land in known wolf country, especially when wolves are denning, then they shouldn’t be surprised if fido becomes fodder. If the dog is leashed and wolves are threatening, this is different, in my view–mostly because it has the potential to turn into a situation where humans could be injured.

  29. avatar Robert Hoskins says:

    People have such a wonderful ability to blame others for their problems, and more importantly, to demand that others pay for the consequences of their decisions, especially to move into wildlife habitat.

    Caveat emptor.

  30. avatar Alan Sachanowski says:

    Monte, when recovering an endangered or threatened species I don’t believe that they ever set a maximum. Normally the more the better. I can’t even imagine them saying (for example): When there are (say) 100 breeding pairs of California condors we will open a hunting season on them.
    I believe that the best way to “manage” wolves is to “control” problem wolves (such as these in Alaska), not an indiscriminate hunt that will target animals that are just living out their lives being wolves and not causing any problems for anyone; thus destroying the social structure of packs etc., as pointed out by others on these pages.
    Layton, I don’t know about you, but if I saw a wolf (coyote, bear, cougar…..etc.) hanging around the neighborhood I think that I would bring my dog (cat etc.) in the house overnight. Of course you have a right to defend yourself when in the woods. That’s why I always carry bear spray. It’s not just for bears. I wouldn’t be above blasting a rabid squirrel if I had to. Fortunately, in years of hiking in National Forests, Yellowstone, Glacier, Grand Teton etc., etc., I have never even had to un-holster it. Every time I’ve seen wolves in the back country they have run away; and I often hike alone…..easy target.
    About two weeks ago, in Lamar Valley, I watched the Druids (all 16) split a bull elk from a group of three. This bull stood his ground, head high in the air. The wolves surrounded it, but the bull never flinched. The wolves sat down in a circle around the bull, staring at it. The bull stared back. Finally, having sensed no weakness, the wolves moved off. A few minutes later, they made a run after a lone bison which put its head down and charged the wolves. No weakness there. On down the valley they went. Several minutes later they came upon a herd of elk that scattered as they approached. Trailing behind was a rather scrawny looking cow, obviously having trouble keeping up. The wolves took it down. Looked pretty “compensatory” to me.

  31. avatar JB says:

    “I wouldn’t be above blasting a rabid squirrel if I had to.”

    Envisioning this scenario had me laughing out loud! “Stay back, squirrel! Or feel the wrath of my pepper spray!” Thanks, Alan! 😉

  32. avatar JEFF E says:

    JB,
    That is funny. But….. more humans have been attacked by squirrels in the last 13 years than have been attached by wolves.

  33. avatar Linda Hunter says:

    Alan I loved the story about the Druids. . there is a lesson for humans in that. Layton you are not likely to be attacked by any animal because I have a feeling you move with confidence and animals, all of them, even squirrels, know when they can attack something and when they can’t. Our poor clueless domestic dogs get killed because they a whimps relative to the wild canines. (Now I will have a dog owner say their dog is not a whimp) . . but if you read “Beast in the Garden” about the cougar problem in Boulder you will see that it is people who are whimps who get attacked. Body language and attitude is EVERYTHING. . which is why if you don’t carry a gun you need pepper spray. Pepper spray and gives a timid person the body language they need not to look like prey. Yesterday I looked in the paper and Embarq has an add with a cute cub and the caption says something like it looks so irresitable till it grows up and rips you apart. . comparing that to their rates that don’t change. This kind of media stuff adds to timid humans who go in the woods and teach animals that even though we are big and smell like good hunters we are easy to scare. The women in Alaska who got followed by the wolves (I didn’t get to see the video as I have a Mac) had pepper spray and reportedly used it. It was winter. . so they carry pepper spray for more than bears up there.

  34. avatar Don Riley says:

    JEFF E Says: in my opinion, because of the obscene level of subsidizing for public lands grazing, whining about losses, from whatever the cause, gets absolutely zero sympathy in my book. On private land, the owner should be able to protect his/her property, period…….livestock operators claim losses on taxes that cover such, in addition too any compensation by private of public agencies……”

    I am in total agreement. I would add to that losses of pets running free, although I suspect I would attempt to dispatch a coyote or wolf trying to do in my bird dog hunting grouse with me. In the case of a Grizz, the dog might be on his own.

    The issue of compensation in the in the COWboy-SHEEPman State is interesting. The proposed new rule in Wy is to compensate the livestock owner for confirmed losses to bears, lions (and now) wolves, at the rate of the actual value of the loss…. BUT in “In geographic areas determined by the Department to have terrain, topography,
    and vegetative characteristics that influence the ability of the claimant and Department to find missing calves and sheep that are believed to have been damaged as a result of a trophy game animal, the Department shall utilize the methods, factors and formulas ……”.

    The formula is compensation to be paid at value times a multiplier ranging from 3 to 3.5 times the confirmed number of lost animals, depending on if the animals were sheep or calves and if the area of the loss was grizzly habitat.

    In the case of a loss to wolves, which is the change in the previous rule, the multiplier is 7! The multiplier for sheep and calves does not change in the proposed new rule. For any compensation to be paid there must be a minimum of 1 identifiable confirmed kill.

    I am intimately familiar with hunting dogs with a value that exceeds that of any sheep or calf of which I am familiar, even that of some bulls. Therefore, Wyoming being the state of hunters and well as livestock producers, hunters economic output far exceeding that of livestock producers and compensation being the norm, where do we fit in?

    Is compensation taxable????

    Draw your own conclusion……………..

  35. avatar Layton says:

    Robert,

    Shouldn’t the “caveat emptor” go for the wolves too??

    Layton

  36. avatar TallTrent says:

    “A look at the bone marrow shows that wolves are either selecting out the weak elk and only the weak elk, or all elk are in poor shape, Smith said.” “The drought is good news for wolves because they can kill more elk, but Smith says the predators likely aren’t having a huge effect on the elk population as a whole. Some of the elk in poor condition would likely die of starvation anyway.” “‘You get more and more elk in poor shape, and the wolves kill those elk,’ he said. ‘Without wolves, the elk population in Yellowstone would have declined anyway.”

    These are the reasons that wolf kills are almost always compensatory. It was shown in this study and has been shown time and time again in the data on wolf-killed-prey that they target the old, weak, injured and sick almost all of the time. The vast majority of the elk killed by wolves would have died from these other causes, but wolves got to them first. This is very basic predator-prey ecology. What has complicated the situation in the northern Rockies is the long drought that was kicking off just as we brought wolves back to the area. Certainly it has been helpful for wolves, as this article and study show, because they can take advantage of the weaker elk, but it has also been very convenient for the anti-wolf crowd to be able to shout and holler about “They’re killing all the elk!”, which is clearly not the case.

  37. avatar JB says:

    TallTrent:

    Thanks for a bit more clarification regarding compensatory mortality. One point I’d like to make regarding the condition of animals that wolves target. I think it is more appropriate to say that wolves target “vulnerable” animals–not the “old, weak or injured.” I know, this is nitpicking, but wolves would just as well target healthy animals were they vulnerable (for instance, in deep snow). Most of the time they take the old, sick and injured because these animals are more vulnerable, not because they prefer them to healthy animals.

    I think its important to be clear about this because when wolves kill seemingly healthy animals, the wolf-haters love to throw these statements back in your face.

  38. avatar JEFF E says:

    wolves follow the basic pattern of all animals . Expend the least amount of energy necessary to secure food.

  39. avatar catbestland says:

    Layton,

    The term “caveat emptor” absolutely should NOT also apply to wolves. First of all one must have the ability to reason that their are consequences to their actions. Wolves, as opportunistic predators see only that the slow moving, dim witted cattle and sheep are vulnerable prey. Their natural instinct is to prey upon them when the opportunity presents itself. That opporunity is provided by Ranchers who SHOULD know better than to subject their property, in defiance of nature, to the risk of falling victim to predation. Not only should the rancher beware, but he should be held accountable for his own actions and suffer the loss due to his irresponsible decisions.

    Wolves cannot reason that cattle and sheep are off limits as prey. If livestock are in his habitat, they are dinner. Humans are supposed to be the intelligent ones who can determine the reasonableness of his actions. If he defies Natural Law by exposing his livestock to the natural cycle of predation, he should be willing to suffer the losses. Who is man to assume that he is above Natural Law? History is full of the bad consequences of man’s defiance of Natural Law. This of course apllies to predation on public lands. Private property is another matter, although ranchers bear some responsibility there as well if their property is within wolf habitat as there are many methods of deterence available to them.

  40. avatar Layton says:

    Cat,

    You said “Who is man to assume that he is above Natural Law? ”

    I don’t think that man SHOULD do that. By the way, which “natural law” are you talking about?? I’m not a “natural lawyer” but I would think that “the strongest prevail” would come in there somewhere.

    My point is this — you think that man should not be above natural law, I think that the wolves should not be either.

    If these critters have ANY of the intelligence or cunning that seems to be attributed to them quite regularly on this blog, it would seem that just a few years of letting man defend his property and protect flocks, herds and pets both on public and private land would teach them to leave those prey critters alone.

    Sorry, I just think that it should be a two way street. And no, I do NOT believe that, when a wolf pack moves in the place belongs to them.

    Layton

  41. avatar JB says:

    I will leave the whole “natural law” argument to you two; however, I want to comment on one of Layton’s points:

    “If these critters have ANY of the intelligence or cunning that seems to be attributed to them quite regularly on this blog, it would seem that just a few years of letting man defend his property and protect flocks, herds and pets both on public and private land would teach them to leave those prey critters alone.”

    This argument works if by “defend his property and protect flocks” you mean through the use of non-lethal control. This is because “learning” to avoid man requires the individual animal to actually survive its encounter–preferably with some sort of negative stimulus to punish the undesired behavior. A wolf can’t learn if it’s dead; nor can it teach its offspring to avoid people.

    If, on the other hand, you mean that wolves (as a group) will evolve toward human-avoidance as less shy individuals are removed from the population–well, I would suggest that this type of natural selection would take centuries–not “just a few years.”

    I want to point out that I’m all for the hunting of wolves–when wolves reach a point where there’s a harvestable surplus.

  42. avatar BW says:

    For those that read the story, this is simply Doug Smith’s opinion, not supported by any factual data. Biologically speaking, mountain communities are immune to drought because these animals live in mountainous regions that receive serious amounts of snowfall, even if spring rains do not come, snowmelt will provide enough moisture to ensure that fresh, new forage is grown. I find it interesting that no one seems to recognize the glaring conflicts regarding this man’s opinions. It wasn’t that long ago that another article (Winter conflicts with bison could increase; Jackson Hole News & Guide Daily, Jan 5, 2008) mentioned how bison herds (from this same region) are increasing. If the drought is affecting the habitat to the extent that elk are in poor reproductive fitness why is it not also affecting the bison herd? This appears to be a contradictory statement. Shouldn’t the drought be impacting the reproductive fitness of both populations? Perhaps it could be something different all together. We now that bison suffer very little losses to predation, specifically concerning bears and wolves; whereas, evidence has shown that bears focus a lot of attention on elk calves during partition and that wolves kill both calves and adults. It would appear as though some continue to refuse to admit that wolves are having an impact. Doug Smith implies that elk numbers have drastically decreased (from 20,000+ to less than 10,000) because poor range conditions have led to an overall decline in the number of healthy elk, creating an advantage for wolves to exploit. I would offer a counter point that perhaps by adding an additional highly prolific and effective predator to a system that already has an abundance of large predators (grizzly and black bears, mountain lions, coyotes, man, etc.) is too much and something must give before the whole system collapses.

    A second point that conflicts with Doug’s opinion is that prior to wolves this area had undergone droughts before and elk continued to thrive; so much in fact, that the elk population was able to exceed 20,000 animals. In addition, elk herds in areas devoid of wolves but still being impacted by droughts have been able to sustain or increase elk populations. Perhaps the fact that wolves harass elk 365 days out of the year is having a far greater impact then some would like to admit. Many on this site claim to watch wolves. Many have posted stories of observing wolves chasing elk. Sometimes these stories mention the success of a kill, other times they have mentioned that the elk or moose successfully avoided becoming a meal. I have wondered if anyone has thought about the amount of energy that these elk and moose are expending to avoid becoming a meal. How many escapes happen until an individual finally succumbs to fatigue or makes a fatal error? If everyday someone chased elk or moose on a snowmobile everyone one would be outraged. I would never condone this type of activity; yet, it appears as though wolf advocates see this continued harassment as “natural” because wolves are only doing what wolves are programmed to do. I believe elk and moose in the presence of wolves spend more time being vigilant in avoiding becoming a meal and are spending less time foraging because of their continued harassment. Furthermore, I believe that wolves create weak and sick elk and moose through their continued harassment.

    On a side note, I have no idea as to whether or not wolves are consuming and living off of gut piles left by hunters. If this is in fact occurring, I would think that even the simplest would under stand the risks of this behavior. What happens when wolves begin to associate hunters with food? Hasn’t that led to those animals eventually becoming habituated to humans and ultimately loosing their fear of humans. Don’t you think this will ultimately lead to increase wolf/human conflicts? I strongly believe in the statement that I hear often in Wyoming: “a fed bear is a dead bear”. I would think that many of you would be concerned about this, if in fact it is occurring.

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‎"At some point we must draw a line across the ground of our home and our being, drive a spear into the land and say to the bulldozers, earthmovers, government and corporations, “thus far and no further.” If we do not, we shall later feel, instead of pride, the regret of Thoreau, that good but overly-bookish man, who wrote, near the end of his life, “If I repent of anything it is likely to be my good behaviour."

~ Edward Abbey

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