Yet another study is casting doubt on a Washington State University professor’s much-lauded 2014 conclusions about cattle depredations and wolves.
A Washington Policy Center brief out yesterday says that Dr. Rob Wielgus’s findings that killing wolves for livestock depredations leads to a higher risk of attacks the following year had “serious methodological flaws and critical omissions in its analytical methods.”
Write authors Todd Myers and Stephen Sharkansky, his “main conclusions are, at best, unsupported by the data, if not refuted outright. His central conclusion that killing wolves increases depredations of cattle and sheep is based on a false statistical argument unsupported by reasoned analysis.”
They say the reason for increasing losses of sheep and cattle is simply increasing wolf populations. A retired federal wolf manager has stated that 20 percent of packs will depredate.
WPC’s work will be panned by some in the wolf world as that of a conservative, free-market think tank with a pro-ag agenda in part.
But it does follow on similar findings by University of Washington researchers earlier this year.
Using the same open-source data, statisticians there could not replicate Wielgus and coauthor Kaylie Peebles’s results either.
“Rather than more culling of wolves leading to more killings of livestock in the following year, our results indicate that more culling of wolves would lead to fewer killings of livestock in the following year than expected in the absence of culling,” wrote Nabin Baral of the UW’s School of Environmental and Forest Sciences in the College of the Environment, et al.
Before that Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks researchers found that for wolf recovery over the long term, it may be better to kill an entire livestock-depredating pack now rather than just one or two of the predators at a time in hopes of ending the attacks because in the long run, you have to kill more wolves.
To be clear, that’s not the current tack that Washington wolf managers are taking.
It’s based on plenty of nonlethal work, set numbers of attacks over periods of time and then incremental lethal removals to stop a pack’s bad behavior, followed by a period of observation and continued conflict-avoidance work, and either more removals if attacks resume or an end to lethal operations if they don’t.
With the Smackout Pack of Northeast Washington this summer, taking out two members in July appears to have changed that large group of wolves’ behavior, at least for now.
(Of note, that appears not to have worked in Oregon with the Harl Butte Pack, which is attacking cattle again.)
The goal is ultimately to quickly reduce the number of dead livestock and wolves.
“Data in Wielgus’ study actually support the current Washington state strategy of removing wolves where there is conflict with a rancher, consistent with the common-sense conclusion that removing wolves reduces livestock deaths,” write WPC’s Myers and Stephen Sharkansky.
Meanwhile, on the other end of the wolf management spectrum, Arizona- and Eugene-based pro-wolf groups will now get 48 hours notice of WDFW lethal removal actions after filing a lawsuit in Thurston County Superior Court, a bid to be able to possibly stop them.
“There hasn’t been any loss of department authority or ability to take action,” state wolf manager Donny Martorello told the Capital Press.
He said that WDFW was “disappointed” in the lawsuit filed by the “out-of-state groups” — Center for Biological Diversity and Cascadia Wildlands — and said the agency is “committed to continue working with our citizens, stakeholders, wolf advocates, hunters and livestock producers as we have in the past. We will deal with the litigation and lawsuit, and keep moving forward.”
Neither CBD or CW are on WDFW’s Wolf Advisory Group. One organization that is offered a tepid response to their lawsuit.
“Though not based in Washington, these groups have the right to seek to improve our state’s wolf management process using legal means. It will be up to the courts to decide the validity of their claims,” noted Chase Gunnell of Conservation Northwest. “However, we’re concerned by the way in which these groups dismiss the collaborative process in Washington, a process that’s making significant progress towards coexistence and tolerance for wolves, all while our wolf population continues to grow by more than 25 percent annually. We sincerely hope that this lawsuit doesn’t throw the baby, or in this case the wolf pup, out with the bathwater, so to speak.”