Controversial wolf hunt over, Sweden now wants to import wolves

Purpose of import is not due to excessive wolf mortality during the hunt. It is lack of genetic diversity-

Sweden wants to import 20 genetically diverse wolves over the next five years.  Although the Swedish Parliament wants to limit the wolf population to about 200 wolves, and so had their first wolf hunt this year, apparently the population is based on too few founding wolves and suffers from inbreeding.

The ill effects of inbreeding do not go away when a population based on just a few animals grows in size. Therefore, the importation of new wolves and the hunt are not related. Regardless of one’s opinion about the wolf hunt, bringing in unrelated wolves will benefit the health of the 200 or so Swedish wolves.

The official number of wolves killed in the recent wolf hunt was 27.

Sweden to import wolves

There is a lesson here for all those people who prefer a “natural” (unassisted recovery) of any animal — unless there is a large in-migration, the renewed population is not likely to be genetically healthy even if it becomes fairly large.





  1. JimT Avatar

    You hit the nail on the head, Ralph–genetic diversity, interacting populations, and protected habitat within which to move and breed. Then, one runs into the political mess we have seen with the three states of re-introduction here, with the reasonable conclusion that the powers that be want wolves to be in a defacto zoo of some sort if they are to be here at all. Sad to see Sweden making some very questionable decisions..I always thought of that society as pretty civilized,,,but of course, that could be my wive brainwashing me…

  2. Dave Avatar

    Our own Isle Royale wolves are caught in the same genetic trap as those in Sweden and are suffering physical problems due to inbreeding. Now the big question is, should the National Park Service import outbred wolves into this ecosystem? We can expect a lot of debate over this in the near future.

  3. mikarooni Avatar

    There has been some recent research coming out of New Zealand. I skimmed through it, but don’t have a link. The research implies that the genetic bandwidths currently used by FWS and others to set minimum sustainable population sizes are much too small. I suppose this information applies to wolves; but, the GYE grizzly population is the one that worries me in this regard. When you get down to counting breeding sows by ones and twos, you don’t have sufficient genetic depth for long-term sustainability.

  4. SEAK Mossback Avatar
    SEAK Mossback

    Maintaining small carnivore populations with enough genetic diversity seems to be a common problem in Europe. Was recently in the Pyrenees – the brown bear population is about 20 animals after dipping even lower. Similar to Swedish wolves, they are gradually bringing in bears from Slovenia. The Pyrenees are extensive enough but it’s tough to get more than 5 miles from a road and sheep herding has conflicts with bears and wolves. They’ve brought back the Great Pyrenees dogs that are raised to think they’re sheep and post warnings hikers to avoid both the dogs and bears.

    There’s been a lot of talk in Alaska about Swedish moose management – if we could just tamp down predators enough, we could have moose hunting like the Swedes (100,000 harvest from a 400,000 population instead of 7,000 from 85,000 in Alaska). ADF&G put out an interesting article a few months ago that compared the two areas and threw a little cold water on the dream, but it seems to have vanished off the internet!!!

  5. mikarooni Avatar

    SFW is front and center in the “tamp down predators” movement; it’s a perfectly selfish and self-centered idea that matches cultural predilections perfectly.

  6. Gerry Miner Avatar
    Gerry Miner

    “Our own Isle Royale wolves are caught in the same genetic trap as those in Sweden and are suffering physical problems due to inbreeding.”
    there is actually a publication out there (i will look for it) that says that the so called genetic problems of the isle royale wolves are not actually that big a deal–and published by Mech. take a look at wolves around the world and there are spinal problems that don’t stem from inbreeding. I’ll try to get a hold of this publication again.

  7. Dave Avatar

    These genetic problems in Isle Royale wolves are indeed a big deal if you consider threatening “the long-term survival of wolves on Isle Royale” to be a big deal . The following excerpts are from April, 2009, postings.
    The gray wolves of Isle Royale in Lake Superior are suffering from backbone malformations caused by genetic inbreeding, wildlife biologists from Michigan and Sweden report in the May 2009 issue of the journal Biological Conservation. While this discovery threatens the long-term survival of wolves on Isle Royale, it also heightens the importance of ensuring genetic connectivity among the three subpopulations of wolves in the Northern Rockies.

    “There is now good reason to think that Isle Royale wolves have been suffering from genetic deterioration due to inbreeding,” the researchers say in their journal article.

    LSTV malformities are also more common among domestic dogs that are particularly inbred.
    Assessing the appropriateness of bringing new wolves to Isle Royale now seems complicated by several new considerations. First, we now know genetic deterioration has, at least, compromised the anatomy of these wolves. Given current knowledge about population viability and the non-experimental circumstances characterizing Isle Royale, as much scientific insight might be gained by assessing the potential effects of genetic rescue as from continuing to observe the effects of population isolation.

  8. SEAK Mossback Avatar
    SEAK Mossback

    It’s amazing how well the Isle Royale wolves have done for so many years from such a small founding population – and having to live almost entirely on moose which would surely challenge fitness. It does seem that having a good, diverse founding population and protecting them early on is key – before there’s much intraspecific competition or human controls. A wolf planted later faces being killed by other wolves, wildlife services or a hunter and even if successful will likely leave a considerably lesser relative genetic legacy than an early colonist or founding animal. I wonder if Swedish environmental authorities have a plan to protect those wolves brought in to improve genetics if they continue an annual hunt.

    Wow, speaking of wolves, I just stepped outside to answer the call and heard them howling over on the mainland for the first time this winter . . .

  9. JB Avatar

    SM: Agreed, I find it truly amazing that wolves have been able to persist on Isle Royale for the bast 60+ years.

    Rolf Peterson–the researcher who replaced Mech–has some really interesting video of the Isle Royale wolves camped out under an apple tree, eating apples.

  10. Dave Avatar

    The problem with the Isle Royale wolves is the persistent small population size, an unavoidable function of the small ecosystem. No matter how genetically diverse the founders are, after many generations of a small population, genetic erosion occurs, and less common alleles disappear from the population, one by one. If the small population persists, even fairly common alleles can be lost. Eventually, deleterious alleles (forms of a gene) can become common, even fixed, in the population, and it’s downhill from here. Welcome to the Isle Royale wolves! In the case of this population, it’s hard for crippled wolves to take down adult moose. Who knows what other genetic defects are, or soon will be, affecting this population (heart valves, kidney function, immune system, etc.)?

  11. SEAK Mossback Avatar
    SEAK Mossback

    I can see the problem with genetic erosion in such a small population over time. It will be interesting to see how it plays out both on the ground and in debate about what if anything to do. A slightly similar experiment that didn’t go nearly as far was conducted on Coronation Island in the 1960s. Four pups from the same litter were placed on the heavily overbowsed Island that sticks out in the gulf west of here. I think two of the wolves (females) were shot by a troller fairly early on and replaced with unrelated animals. They increased quickly, peaking out at about 11, before eliminating the deer and then each other (according to scat analysis) and declining to one male. No apples for him, but he survived a few lonely years digging clams and catching the odd seal hauled up on the rocks. The wolves are gone now, more deer swam out and its heavily overbrowsed again. Not enough snowfall to adequately control deer without predators but not enough land (<20,000 acres) to support both for long, especially with deer being stunted and nutrionally stressed when the wolves arrived.

  12. Dave Avatar

    I wonder if coyotes wouldn’t have been a better choice as predators in this situation rather than wolves. Now that the deer are back, maybe they should rerun the experiment with coyotes. Just a thought.

  13. Katerina Avatar

    Despite the minister´s of agriculture spreading of lies abroad our country, the Swedish wolves do not suffer as much genetically. All wolves from the January cull have been examined in the University of Uppsala and found to be perfectly healthy, without genetic anomalities, and to be good specimen.

    The cull was no more than a slaughter initiated by a huge hunting lobby, paid by big money.
    There are many articles, press released and proofs for that.
    It´s not just my “stupid opinion”.

    There were many wolves with fresh genes, from Russian and Finnish ancestry, but they were killed as well. There was no targeting of “only weak or sick individuals” to be killed. Alpha wolves were killed, including parents, orphaning a litter of puppies.
    A cull hunt of 27 wolves is not performed by 12000 horny rednecks, who don´t even know how to shoot a wolf, which was proven on dozens of photos from the hunt – many wolves were shot several times, before finally killed. Many wolves were injured and escaped, and had to be searched after for several days, left dieing in pain and agony. That is not a profeissonal culling hunt.

    New wolves, that will be imported, will end up in the same way. And those not killed by aproval from authorities will be poisoned or killed otherwise by illegal hunters – wolf haters.

    The reason why so many wolves from Russia and Finland never made it to the Swedish strain, is because they never made their journeys through Lapland and Jamtland – being illegally killed by the reindeer herders.

    This is a closed circle and will not get solved unless the Swedish government finally starts facing truth and sovling the large issues of intollerance and unacceptance of wolves, among people. Effective programs need to be applied to keep wolves out of harm´s way, if we wanna see a healthy wolf strain striving and growing in Sweden, Norway, but also Finland.

    Please consider reading the Wolf Hunt blog, which is dedicated to the wolves worldwide, with a major foccus on Sweden and Scandinavia, if you wanna learn more about what is really going on in Sweden:


Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University. He was a Western Watersheds Project Board Member off and on for many years, and was also its President for several years. For a long time he produced Ralph Maughan’s Wolf Report. He was a founder of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. He and Jackie Johnson Maughan wrote three editions of “Hiking Idaho.” He also wrote “Beyond the Tetons” and “Backpacking Wyoming’s Teton and Washakie Wilderness.” He created and is the administrator of The Wildlife News.

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