For wolf recovery over the long term, it may be better to kill an entire livestock-depredating pack rather than just one or two of the predators at a time in hopes of ending the attacks.
Research by a Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks biologist suggests that approach may actually lead to more removals down the road than just eliminating the pack in the first place.
“What’s counterintuitive is you end up killing fewer wolves in the long run that way,” FWP’s Liz Bradley told Rob Chaney of The Missoulian in an article over the weekend. “Maybe you have an incident and you kill a pack of six. That’s different than if you take three out every year, and the remainder have pups every year, and you end up taking 12 or 15 wolves over five or six years. If you removed that pack up front, you only take five or six, and give a chance for another (non-depredating) pack to move in.”
Speaking to the early years of wolf recovery in the Northern Rockies, she says that management was pretty conservative, “one here and one there, to see if that would work. What we found was those small removals weren’t effective.”
It’s the second study of wolf-livestock conflicts in recent years that has produced “counterintuitive” results.
In December 2014, research out of Washington State University’s Large Carnivore Lab said removing wolves that kill sheep and cattle leads to an increased chance of depredations the following year.
“People think, let’s kill the wolves and get rid of the problem. But it doesn’t work that way with carnivores. Sometimes, the punitive solution is causing the problem,” the lab’s Rob Wielgus told the Spokane Spokesman-Review‘s Becky Kramer.
His results were much lauded by wolf advocates as the final word.
So who’s right?
Of course, if you take out an entire pack, like WDFW did with the Wedge wolves in 2012, that pretty much means they won’t be doing any more depredating in the future.
It also means you don’t have to go through the whole huge social debate that comes with removals over and over and over.
Federal wolf managers will tell you that one out of five packs is just going to cause trouble for producers and others, so that also means getting ahead of problems can reduce depredations and subsequent need for removals.