I’d like to respond to the misinformation in Paul Clark’s guest column n the H and N April 14th which focused primarily on wolves and the Endangered Species Act (ESA).
As background I have participated in studies on wolves, worked as a hunting guide in Montana, and lived for many years adjacent to Yellowstone NP where wolves were reintroduced in 1995 so have much familiarity with both wolf ecology as well as the specific landscapes that Clark mentions in his editorial.
Clark says wolves have “devastated” ranchers, as well as elk, deer, and other big game populations in Montana, Idaho and Wyomng. Perhaps Mr. Clark should go directly to the state wildlife agencies for his numbers. In 1992 according to the Montana Dept. of Fish, Wildlife and Parks, there were an estimated 89,000 elk in the state. Wolves were restored to Yellowstone and Central Idaho in 1995. From these transplants as well as natural recolonization wolves spread throughout Montana so by 2013 there were about 600 plus wolves in Montana. And today the “devastated” elk herd has nearly doubled to 150,000 animals.
In fact, out of 127 elk management units in Montana, 68 were “over objectives” meaning the wildlife agency considered the herds too large for the carrying capacity. Some 47 were meeting objectives, and only 12 were below objectives, and the reasons for a few areas not meeting objectives were not only due to wolves. For instance, in one well known instance of the southern Bitterroot Valley where elk numbers had declined,  MDFWP readily admits it permitted hunters to kill too many cow elk which led to a depressed elk population. Wolves had nothing to do with the low elk recruitment.
Similar statistics are available for Idaho and Wyoming. In 2013 Wyoming elk hunters killed the second greatest number of elk in history, with the previous year, 2012 the highest kill ever recorded. Indeed, elk hunters had a 45% success rate, a slight decline from the 46% success in 2012. Apparently Wyoming hunters must be killing imaginary elk because according to Mr. Clark all those Wyoming wolves are “devastating” the Wyoming elk herds. Check out this video from the Wyoming Fish and Game bragging about the high hunter success rate in 2012.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-Xd9MCIqePI
This is not to suggest that wolves and other predators don’t occasionally cause big game numbers to decline, but such decline is typically in combination with other factors like habitat quality losses. For instance, in a well known instance, elk herds in the Lolo Pass area of Idaho have declined because of forest recovery after large wildfires earlier in the century that had previously created a lot favorable browse for elk. Due to fire suppression forests have replaced the shrubs that used to support larger elk populations. In essence elk numbers had to decline and were already well in decline in this area long before wolves recolonized it.
As for “devastation of the livestock industry, again perspective is needed. Sure wolves will occasionally kill livestock. But it’s hardly “devastating” the livestock industry. I will again use Montana statistics since I am very familiar with the issue in that state. In 2013 documented wolf kills accounted for a total of 58 cattle out of a total state-wide population of 2.5 million cattle. To suggest that the loss of less than a hundred cattle across a huge state like Montana is devastating the livestock industry borders on hyperbole.Check out the statistics yourself at Montana Dept of Livestock web site.http://www.liv.mt.gov/LLB/lossdata_2013.mcpx Again similar small losses were reported in other states with wolves.
Even Clark’s use of reported wolf losses across the entire country requires context. First, the statistics he uses are “self reported” losses, not documented losses. As many experts will attest, many reported predator losses are due to other factors, and ranchers tend to exaggerate and/or blame predators for losses that have other explanations. But even if we take Clark’s and the rancher’s numbers at face value, the loss of 8,000 cattle presumably lost to wolves is from a nation-wide cattle herd that numbers close to 100 million animals. Again the loss of 8000 cattle to wolves out of a total of 100 million animals cannot be considered “devastation” by any stretch of the imagination.
That is not to suggest any loss to an individual might not be traumatic, but many other factors including disease, calving problems, and poison plants kill more cattle than wolves. Even domestic dogs kill three times as many cattle as wolves across the nation. So again perspective is needed to understand and put Clark’s numbers in context.
The point is that wolves have not “devastated” big game herds. Hunter success has continued to be high in most places, and the livestock industry is hardly threatened by wolf depredation
 
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About The Author

George Wuerthner

George Wuerthner is an ecologist and former hunting guide with a degree in wildlife biology

17 Responses to A Response to Paul Clark’s editorial on wolves in Herald News

  1. avatar Dave Messineo says:

    Well said!

  2. avatar Julie says:

    Has this excellent article been sent to the Herald News?

  3. avatar rick says:

    I really like the truth, especially when it exposes deceit.

  4. avatar Immer Treue says:

    Mr. Clark’s article is nothing more than a short selection of topics from the Ted Lyon/Will Graves essay collection, “The Real Wolf”.

  5. avatar Suzanne Dunham says:

    Thank you so much! It’s too bad that the hunters and killers aren’t listening or is it that they just don’t care!

  6. avatar rork says:

    I agree both sides cherry pick data. (For example always compare Yellowstone elk to 1988 or so, a decade before there were many wolves, just cause there were tons then.)
    However I think a central question facing elk (or deer) managers is: In certain areas (e.g., of low fawn/doe ratios in fall) can reduction of wolves by hunting lead to more elk available to human hunters, and to what degree?
    I think we really don’t know much – in MI with deer I’m pretty much in doubt. We don’t do controlled experiments. Studies on coyotes do exist, where the answer is perhaps “it’s damn complicated”, but to a first approximation it is that it’ll help only in a few rather special circumstances (some of the “down-south” deer, that have fawn/doe ratios that would be inconceivable within 500 miles of me – the yotes eat many fawns is the reason for interest in the rato). The Idaho guys seem to think they know they have areas where it will work, but their evidence is absent or doubtful, and they do no experiments as far as I can tell – science is not the goal.

    I immediately add: even if it does increase elk some, do we think it’s worth it? That is, there is a loss function in any decision problem – an estimated effect size or it’s significance alone do not tell us how to act. Still, if two sides have some agreement on the effects, then we at least know we are only arguing about the loss function (“values”, what the worth of wolves and elk are, and the costs and benefits of killing them).

    • avatar CodyCoyote says:

      rork. Does/Fawns = Deer. Cows/Calves = Elk.
      Re-read your second paragraph concerning that distinction ….

  7. avatar Suhail says:

    Very well written rebuttal. The truth of the matter is that anti-wolf lobby, when writing articles, simply needs to cite authentic sources of information for referencing and be objective in their analysis.

  8. avatar Kathleen says:

    “In his ranching days in the Dakota badlands, Roosevelt often referred to predators, such as wolves, as the beasts of waste and desolation. His early writings clearly paint predators as destroyers of cattle and big game, yet from this flamboyant portrayal there eventually developed a careful study of predators and their natural behavior. This close study of wildlife in his early years, combined with a vast amount of time spent in the West, led Roosevelt to change his perception of predators. In Yellowstone, Roosevelt attempted to end predator control in order to maintain a natural balance of big game populations. This switch in perspectives was influenced by many things, including…an increased knowledge of natural history.” http://www.georgewright.org/154johnston.pdf

    Minds are like parachutes, right? They function only when open.

  9. avatar WyoWolfFan says:

    The same tired argument on wolves devastating game herds. I always laugh when I hear that and then go into areas near Jackson where I see no shortage of elk, deer, and moose right from the road. Apparently they have all taken shelter on the roadways.

  10. avatar Ralph Maughan says:

    Norman Bishop in Bozeman sent me a copy of his LTE to the editor of the newspaper than printed the Clark piece.

    Due to my respect for the scientific and practical knowledge of Norm Bishop. I post it below. It is lengthy, but then there seems to be an unlimited space.

    – – – –
    Mr. O’brien:

    I can’t begin to tell you how offensive I found Paul Clark’s April 14 commentary, “Environmentalists getting rich on ESA: The wolf non-native to the Northwest, has bankrupted many small ranchers.”
    . http://www.heraldandnews.com/members/forum/guest_commentary/article_1f0b6f96-c200-11e3-9cff-001a4bcf887a.html

    Having studied wolves and having participated for the last 29 years in their restoration, I can document, statement by statement, how wrong, not to mention wrong-headed, most of his diatribe is. It makes me wonder, has a newspaper no responsibility to check the facts before it publishes such a polemic?

    Far from getting rich on wolf recovery, from 1987 to 2010, Defenders of Wildlife pioneered a wolf compensation program to reimburse ranchers for livestock lost to wolves. In 23 years, the member-supported environmental organization invested more than $1.4 million in an effort to build trust and promote tolerance within the livestock community.

    Gray wolves are native to Montana. They arrived in North America from Eurasia about 800,000 years ago, preceding even Native Americans. Lewis and Clark called them, “Shepherds of the buffalo.” Although there were about 380,000 wolves in North America, tens of millions of bison and millions of elk, deer, and pronghorns managed to survive their presence. Sub-speciation of wolves has been an ongoing discussion among biologists for decades. The bottom line is, “It’s Canis lupus irregardless.” In other words, a gray wolf is a gray wolf, and former classification of North American wolves into 24 subspecies has long since been discarded. Three wolf subspecies (i.e. Eastern Timber Wolf, Canis lupus lycaon; Northern Rocky Mountain Wolf, Canis lupus irremotus; and Red Wolf, Canis rufus) were listed as endangered in 1974 (USFWS 1974) in the first list of species to be protected under the Endangered Species Act. At that time the only documented populations of reproducing wolves in the conterminous United States were in Minnesota and a small population in Isle Royale National Park (Michigan) in Lake Superior. Later, because the taxonomy of wolves was out of date and there were questions about exactly where the designation of endangered applied, the USFWS (1978) published a rule designating wolves at the species level (i.e. Canis lupus) as endangered in the conterminous states except in Minnesota where wolves were designated as Threatened.

    Prior to wolf reintroduction, a study in 1976-77 in Yellowstone by an independent biologist determined there were no wolves there (John Weaver. 1978. Wolves of Yellowstone.). A couple from Wyoming named Urbigkit alleged otherwise. In Idaho, six years of monitoring yielded no resident wolves. (Kaminski, T., and J. Hansen. 1984. Wolves of central Idaho. Unpubl. rep., Mont. Coop. Wildl. Res. Unit Missoula, Mont. 197 pp).
    Kaminski’s MS thesis was History, status and distribution of the gray wolf in central Idaho, done through the University of Montana and Cooperative Wildlife research Unit.

    The northern Yellowstone elk herd declined for a number of reasons.
    Vucetich and others wrote: “In the period following wolf reintroduction to YNP (1995-2004), the northern Yellowstone elk herd declined from ~17,000 to ~8,000 elk (8.1% yr). The extent to which wolf predation contributed to this decline is not obvious because the influence of other factors (human harvest and lower than average annual rainfall) on elk dynamics has not been quantified. According to the best model,which accounts for harvest rate and climate, the elk population would have been expected to decline by 7.9% per year… (C)limate and harvest rate are justified explanations for most of the observed elk decline.”

    USFS biologist Dan Tyers studied moose on Yellowstone’s northern range for 13 years. He informs us that wolves haven’t eliminated moose from Yellowstone. Instead, burning of tens of thousands of acres of moose habitat in 1988 (mature forests with their subalpine fir) hit the moose population hard, and it won’t recover until the forests mature again.

    I and thousands of other observers have seen wolves kill elk and other large ungulates. They do so quite skillfully. It is very rare to see them feed on a still-living prey animal. They do, indeed, feed many scavengers.
    Mark Hebblewhite and Doug Smith (2010) listed species they observed on 221 ungulate prey carcasses between 1995 and 2000 that were killed by wolves. In Banff National Park, they tallied 20 species: Most common were ravens (present at 96% of all kills), coyote (51%), black-billed magpie (19%), pine marten (14%), wolverine (8%), and bald eagles (8%); others, in descending order, were gray jay, golden eagle, long- and short-tailed weasel and least weasel, mink, lynx, cougar, grizzly bear, boreal and mountain chickadee, Clark’s nutcracker, masked shrew, and great grey owl. In Yellowstone, they noted twelve scavengers, of which five visit virtually every kill: coyotes, ravens, magpies, and golden and bald eagles. More species of beetles use carcasses than all vertebrates put together. Sikes (1994) found 23,365 beetles of 445 species in two field seasons at wolf-killed carcasses. No predator feeds as many other creatures as wolves do.

    Wolves and other large carnivores are essential to the health of the ecosystems on which our game animals and we depend. Wolves have been shown to be capable of reducing or eliminating the spread of brucellosis and chronic wasting disease (Hobbs 2006, Wild et al 2011), in part by reducing density and group sizes of elk and deer. Wild et al concluded, “We suggest that as CWD distribution and wolf range overlap in the future, wolf predation may suppress disease emergence or limit prevalence.” Cross et al (2010) wrote, “(T)he data suggest that enhanced elk-to-elk transmission in free-ranging populations may be occurring due to larger winter elk aggregations. Elk populations inside and outside of the GYE that traditionally did not maintain brucellosis may now be at risk due to recent population increases.”

    I attended the Montana Legislature Environmental Quality Council’s session at the Capitol in Helena Friday May 7, 2010. Their agenda was Agency Oversight: FWP – Wolf Management. Their principal topic was Echinococcus granulosis, (E.g.). Five of six authorities testified that E.g. was not a major health issue. Dr. Mark Johnson, Executive Director of Global Wildlife Resources, was the Yellowstone wolf project veterinarian. He escorted every wolf translocated from Canada in 1995 and 1996. He provided testimony to the Montana Legislature EQC in May 2010 on Echinococcus granulosus, saying that tapeworms were not brought into Montana with the wolves. They were all given two doses of Droncit, Ivermectin, and fendbendazole, all anti-parasitics. E.g. is alive and well in Montana – a natural part of the ecosystem, and not a significant health risk. -No more so than plague and tick-born diseases. Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming wildlife agencies all provide guidelines for hunters about E.g. No information about it is suppressed.

    My friend, George Wuerthner has written you, contesting a number of other points on which Paul Clark misinforms his readers. Perhaps these comments and those from George will offer you a different perspective on this issue, on which barstool biology is only superseded by hatred, hyperbole, hysteria, and histrionics.

    Thanks for reading this overlong rebuttal. It is hard to be brief when having to respond to such wide-ranging disinformation. If you wish to pursue any of the references I have mentioned, please feel free to ask for them.

    A short bio follows.

    After university work in Botany, Zoology, Forest Recreation, and Wildlife Management, and 4 years as a naval aviator, Norman A. Bishop was a national park ranger for 36 years. He was the principal interpreter of wolves and their restoration at Yellowstone National Park from 1985 to 1997, when he retired to Bozeman.
    For his educational work on wolves, he received a USDI citation for meritorious service. He also received the National Parks and Conservation Association’s 1988 Stephen T. Mather Award, the Greater Yellowstone Coalition’s 1991 Stewardship Award, and the Wolf Education and Research Center’s 1997 Alpha Award.
    He led many field courses on wolves for the Yellowstone Association Institute until 2005. He serves on the boards of the Wolf Recovery Foundation and Wild Things Unlimited. He is also on the advisory board of Living with Wolves.

  11. avatar Louise Kane says:

    Bravo George and Norman Bishop

    “Perhaps these comments and those from George will offer you a different perspective on this issue, on which barstool biology is only superseded by hatred, hyperbole, hysteria, and histrionics.”

    Hitting the nail on the head
    how to make these accusations and fairy tales stop
    I think it will have to be returning wolf management to the federal government and creating federal legislation that complements the ESA

  12. avatar Richie G. says:

    Great read the truth should spread ,I hope that this happens, wolves have been blamed for almost all destruction of elk, cattle and the environment, nothing could be further from the truth.

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