Additional Considerations for Gray Wolf Management after their Removal from Endangered Species Act Protections

The attached article details what many of us advocate on this blog, a more equal representation in wildlife management – especially with regards to wolves. However, because we published this article in the Journal of Wildlife Management (JWM) we had to be careful with our wording and ended up removing certain sections like on Public Trust and Minimal Viable Populations, which were surprisingly contentious with the reviewers of our original paper. However, we do think that these are important topics that we plan on addressing in the future Additional Considerations for Gray Wolf Management after their Removal from 12 Endangered Species Act Protections.

Our paper came about because of a paper that noted wolf researcher Dave Mech wrote in 2010 to JWM that reviewed options involving regulated, public hunting of gray wolves (Canis lupus) when states regain control of wolf management. We agreed with his general conclusion that the use of lethal management should focus more in areas of conflict and less in wilderness areas, especially near protected places like national parks, and have legit fair chase and seasons between November and February – when pups were big enough to look like adults and before gravid females gave birth.

In our paper, we expanded on Mech’s work by providing additional considerations that could be incorporated into state management plans to make them more acceptable to an increasingly diverse group of interested stakeholders. As is often the case in the scientific world, authors usually “reply” to a given paper (like we did with Mech) and disagree with many (or some of) the core tenets of a given article. However, our “reply” paper is somewhat unique because we actually agreed with almost all of what Mech wrote – we just wanted to elaborate on the fact that over-reliance on hunting as the primary means of managing wolves is likely to generate a lot of conflict without much net benefit to states allowing the hunts. It might also be useful to mention here that neither Montana nor Idaho’s seasons even conform with Mech’s recommendations, let alone ours!

Readers may be particular interested in the Wolf Ecology and Behavior section (starts on page 4) which describes some biological reasons on why killing wolves may not work such as evidence for reoccurrence of depredations even after wolves are killed – and why livestock protection may be a win-win and the best long-term strategy for living with wolves. This section also describes what many of us know, that wolves are social, intelligent animals that really aren’t just any other animal as many people suggestion. We conclude that management can potentially reduce both the social conflict associated with wolves AND depredations if they were to employ techniques that are generally acceptable to all stakeholder groups, and which researchers believe have the most potential for reducing livestock losses, such as good husbandry practices. It is, at least, our attempt to explain why wolf hunting is NOT like managing any other animal and we provide recommendations on how to potentially accomplish alternative management strategies. The paper will appear in a forthcoming issue of JWM.






  1. jon Avatar

    Awesome paper Jon Way.

  2. Wolfy Avatar

    Its not surprising that the staff at JWM would see practical management as “contentious”. The Wildlife Society (TWS), publishers of the JWM, have gone of the deep end. It seems that the conservative (not conservation) social-political spectrum has crept into the management of the TWS. The JWM used to be about bringing forward science on conservation of wildlife species and their habitats. Now is seems that they have swung over to the Hook and Bullet club. They are more concerned with game species and predator control than wildlife management as a whole. And they have published several papers that should be filed as “Crap Science” lately. Makes one wonder how well they peer review their stuff. That’s one big reason why I quit being a member of the TWS. They seem too much like Safari Club International nowadays.

    1. JB Avatar


      I have heard this criticism of TWS from others as well. My perception is that the opposite is the case. I think TWS’s membership is slowly moving toward being more inclusive of alternative views. Their publication of the recent critiques of the NA Model support this view. In my view, the increase in membership in TWS in recent years is, in part, a result of this broadening perspective. I hope this trend continues and people like yourself consider becoming members again.

      1. Jon Way Avatar

        Wolfy and JB (sorry for not responding earlier as I have been away for 2 days),

        My opinion is somewhat in the middle of your dialogue. I agree with JB that JWM can tell there is a shift in wildlife and stakeholders (ie, a much bigger non-hunting focus now) and they are even publishing toward that end. In any good business, if they don’t adapt to change they will functionally go extinct/bankrupt as there just won’t be enough members left if they don’t adapt to change in public perception and use of wildlife.

        However, I still sense a double standard in many of my experiences with JWM. It seems that to support a non-hunting frame of view (both in this paper and in other papers), I/we (depending on coauthors like this one with JB) have had to go beyond any normal type of review process that seemingly a different focused paper might not have to go through – ie, like Mech (2010)’s paper that we responded to.

        I do agree with JB, that I hope this trend continues and I hope that JWM is the first to realize that predators such as wolves are not the same as managing for elk/deer for many reasons. That is why we wrote the article in the first place.

  3. SAP Avatar

    From the article’s discussion:

    “In our view, an effective and publicly acceptable management scenario for wolves would first proactively employ non-lethal methods of wolf management and encourage improved animal husbandry in an attempt to avoid conflicts with pets and livestock in the first place. In these areas, managers would encourage non-depredating packs to live in multi-generational, socially-stable groups (Haber 1996, MacNulty et al. 2010, Wallach et al. 2009) that teach their offspring to avoid humans and livestock. In areas where conflicts occur despite attempts at non-lethal coexistence, or where wolves are found to be negatively affecting other wildlife populations, sport hunting could be used selectively (rather than as the de facto management tool) to reduce wolf populations, consistent with Mech’s (2010) recommendations. This could be accomplished by matching potential wolf hunters with affected producers.”

    Good work, Jon & Jeremy! The devil is in the details, of course, but I think you have summed up what the future could look like.

    This scenario is achievable. That’s not to say it’s inevitable. We could still be stuck in our present stupid scenario 20 years from now — the scenario I call “taking turns being unhappy,” wherein pro-wolf people are happy while watershed-level wolf populations build up, while the “other side” is anxious and unhappy. Then, once we have enough conflicts, all/most of the wolves in a given watershed get killed, and the unhappiness allocation reverses itself.

    Does anyone like the “taking turns being unhappy” scenario?

    1. Immer Treue Avatar
      Immer Treue


    2. WM Avatar

      Negotiators of difficult issues say they know a satisfactory result is achieved when neither side is happy with the result. That would be the pessimist’s view.

      The optimist’s view is, “It could have been a worse result for us, so we should be very thankful for what we got.”

      I am afraid the “taking turns” scenario is going to be around for quite sometime, because neither polar view of the wolf issue.

      And, SAP, I am not sure what you mean by “watershed” but ID, for example, tried the watershed approach with its wolf management quotas from the hunt two years ago. Not getting enough of the wolves in one watershed (generally a proxy for one or more game management units), was countered by getting a quota very quickly in the adjacent one. They, of course, have now taken the position that it is all about total numbers in the short term, because that is how the game is played with the feds – and guess what, they expect the game to continue with “taking turns being happy,” as the saga continues.

      1. WM Avatar


        ++I am afraid the “taking turns” scenario is going to be around for quite sometime, because neither polar view of the wolf issue IS GOING TO ABATE.++

      2. JB Avatar

        WM: Not sure what you mean when you say “that is how the game is played with the feds…”? It seems to me that the delisting, however it was accomplished, removes the BATNA problem that has led to continued litigation to keep wolves protected. Under state-led management, we need not set up the “win/lose” scenarios that have dominated wolf management in recent years. Why? Because advocates can’t run back to the courts to return wolves to the ES list. If there was ever a time too look for compromise “win/win” scenarios it is now. And yet, the states have refused to adopt even Mech’s (2010) modest (I would call them “common sense”) recommendations. Rather, they are falling into the same old trap SAP describes. It’s damn frustrating to watch, even from the outside!

        1. Jon Way Avatar

          I agree with JB, that it is very discouraging that states can’t even follow Mech’s (2010) modest recommendations for a species coming off the ESL. Mech’s recommendations would have been a middle ground, potentially fairly conservative (in terms of setting seasons) approach which obviously hasn’t been implemented…

          It is important to note that this is unprecedented in wildlife management history for a species to go from ESL to being such heavily hunted – which would probably be worth expanding in another separate post.

          1. JEFF E Avatar
            JEFF E

            “unprecedented in wildlife management”

            and is a direct result of the legislatures, Governor’s, Fish & Game agencies being little more than water carriers for the livestock industry

    3. JB Avatar

      Thanks, SAP. “Taking turns being unhappy” seems to aptly describe the unfolding scenario in the intermountain West. Others have referred to this as the “policy pendulum”, which I mentioned in a post on this very issue the other day:

  4. jon Avatar

    montana hunter claims he killed a 170 pound wolf in Montana. Look at the picture. That wolf is nowhere near 170 pounds. Where these hunters come up with these weights, only god knows, but it’s seems pretty common that a lot of these hunters OVERESTIMATE the weights of the wild animals they kill. Look at the picture of the wolf that the hunter killed with a bow, do you think it’s 170 pounds or anywhere near it?

    1. jon Avatar

      My own opinion is that these hunters who claim they killed a “monster wolf” do so because of bragging rights. Look at me, I killed a monster wolf with my bow. Look how bad I am.

      1. SAP Avatar

        Jon, is that really relevant to the article posted or the thread? I respect your passion, but you kind of always take things in the same direction — ie, hunters are awful people, hunting should be banned, so on.

        1. SAP Avatar

          PS: I agree with you, though — that wolf might go 110 tops. Unless the man in the photo is really the size of Shaquille ONeal.

          1. Immer Treue Avatar
            Immer Treue

            Don’t even think it reaches 100pounds. In the 80-90 range.

          2. jon Avatar

            Yeah, anyone can look at that picture and easily tell that wolf is nowhere near 170 pounds, so the question remains why does the hunter who killed it think it’s 170 pounds? I really wonder if these hunters who sport kill these wolves actually even bother weighing them or they just look at the wolf and guess how much it weighs. I remember back in the 09-10 Idaho wolf hunting season, a young hunter shot a wolf and claimed it was 180 pounds. Turns out the wolf was around 130 pounds.


          3. jon Avatar

            My mistake, the wolf the hunter thought was 180 pounds was actually 108 pounds.


          4. Ralph Maughan Avatar

            Yes, Jon. I is very irritating that we have a scientist with a paper and some good comments coming in about the general subject, and you change the thread to your favorite topic. Then, it turns out that your comment was based on a misreading. The only thing interesting is that the Spokesman Review might be showing some bias with their typo.

  5. Ralph Maughan Avatar
    Ralph Maughan

    Please comment on general subject matter of Dr. Way’s paper.

    1. SEAK Mossback Avatar
      SEAK Mossback

      Ralph —
      OK, I’ll take a stab at steering this one back on course. I think it is a good starting blue-print for dampening or stabilizing the pendulum in a reasonable place.

      The main obvious area that is not very well resolved is the issue of “sport hunting” and how it might interface with resolution of conflicts with livestock producers and in cases where prey populations remain depressed. Aside from much-addressed attitudes over hunting wolves, there is some tension between ostensive purposes of hunting of wolves: (A) to provide opportunity for hunting of wolves (just like other game animals), and (B) to address problems associated with wolves. There is some need to decide whether the primary purpose of sport hunting is to provide wolf hunting opportunity or to focus on identified problems. If A is chosen, then the chances of B being accomplished may go down markedly because (1) wolves are resilient with compensating factors in their kill rate, (2) there will be only so much sustained interest in hunting them and (3) when broad areas are opened for long periods, there will unlikely be enough effort and removal from problem areas to make a difference in problems they are associated with. For example, from glancing through hunting magazines in recent years, there is a hard core dedicated group of predator hunters who go out a lot in the winter with highly accurate, powerful small caliber rifles and hunt coyotes and foxes when they are prime, primarily using stealth and calls. I suspect they are quite limited in number but they would be much more effective in dealing with issues on ranches than all the fall hunters packing wolf tags “just in case”, that likely won’t have permission to hunt on those ranches.

      The other way of thinking is hunting isn’t going to do that much anyway so maybe it should be considered entirely separate from the issue of predator control and based more broadly on balancing the described goals of “buying tolerance for wolves with hunters” without “unduly offending non-hunters” and leave the government (WS?) to address specific predation issues, or perhaps just leave specific livestock producers with chronic predation to work with serious predator hunters.

      Where the authors point to in general is by far the preferred of about 3 “regions” where the pendulum could “stabilize”. Another would be progressive devolution whereby management of wolves closely resembles that of coyotes (in the states where wolves are not already being classified as predators), with only minor technical differences. Factors that could lead in that direction include the political-cultural momentum currently at play along with, ironically, evidence that wolves themselves are intrinsically productive and resilient. The process may work itself to a point where there is still livestock predation as always and still a depressed ungulate population or two is not responding as had been hoped (whether or not due to wolf predation) and the season gets permanently liberalized out to 12 months a year with an unattainable bag limit. There will always be something to blame on wolves and reasons raised to keep more pressure on them up to the point where the public is killing as many as they can — with the government also involved. Ironically, if wolf populations were to show themselves to be less productive like bears or wolverines such that they could not maintain viable numbers without more management protection, then that direction would be less of a likelihood and agencies would be forced to manage them “just like other wildlife” rather than super-vermin (coyotes). A couple of years ago I picked up the Montana trapping regulations and thought I was missing a page, because every furbearer was included except the unmentioned coyote. The wolf will be there, but what will the season, limits and methods look like after a few years?

      I think if we get to that point with wolves as with coyotes, it will not only show that the system is entirely one-sided politically but it will demonstrate that as an intelligent species we have once again gotten caught up with war as the objective rather than the means, no different than any long-term sustainable “war-of-attrition” like General Westmoreland’s body count or any other endless counter-insurgent campaign. A lot of money spent, a lot of shooting, a lot of death and misery, not much progress.

      Finally, I agree that a single area that has a potentially high benefit:cost ratio (and will go a long way with general public opinion) is in protecting rare viewing opportunity for highly visible animals in and around national parks like Yellowstone, Grand Teton and Denali. In Alaska, the side with the distinct political advantage got so euphoric in riding the pendulum in their direction that they completely erased a long-debated buffer zone that protected a visible and highly observed wolf pack in Denali Park without any identified issue with a prey population for an extremely small user group with ample trapping opportunity in adjacent areas. The pendulum has gone far right and the authors have shown a light on a reasonable place for it rest . . . . . but who knows when it will run out of momentum?

      I do think it is critical that “science”, including in particular the management agencies who are supposed to be neutral advisors, continue to document the results wherever the pendulum goes and openly present the results so we can avoid being bogged down in an endless, divisive war of attrition without substantive reason and with body counts being presented as evidence of progress. It will also take people demanding information and evidence of cause and effect, as has been debated here over the Lolo elk herd, etc. . . . . demanding that, absent convincing evidence, that reasonable limits and seasons be set that treat the wolf like a game animal, at least a furbearer, and a valued member of the animal community rather than vermin.


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Jon Way