‘Agent Of Intimidation’ — More On WA Deer-Wolf Video Study

A video posted yesterday on YouTube details more about a wolf-deer study going on in North-central Washington which we reported on in the August 2013 issue of Northwest Sportsman.

Last winter University of Washington researchers attached cameras to the throats of 20 whitetail and 18 mule deer does in Okanogan and Ferry Counties to “determine how deer behave when they know wolves are around compared to when they’re not.”

That’s what PhD. candidate Justin Dellinger, who is co-conducting the ongoing study, told our reporter Leroy Ledoboer, continuing, “Are they more vigilant, constantly looking around, more alert to predation danger, thus spending less time foraging? And if so, what impact is this having?”

VIEW FROM THE THROAT OF A DEER CAPTURED AND OUTFITTED WITH A CAMERA FOR THE STUDY. (JUSTIN DELLINGER)

VIEW FROM THE THROAT OF A DEER CAPTURED AND OUTFITTED WITH A CAMERA FOR THE STUDY LAST WINTER. (JUSTIN DELLINGER)

Three wolves in the Nc’icn and Strawberry Packs were GPS collared to track their movements as well, he said.

The new video, entitled “The Ecology of Fear” and produced by Quest Science, shows Dellinger and UW assistant professor Aaron Wirsing driving and walking around the woods, presumably searching for the camera collars after they’ve dropped off the deer, and looking at footage the devices have compiled during filming three hours in the morning and three hours in the evening for two to three weeks.

In a sit-down interview, Dellinger remarks how “individual” deer can be, “like people,” from “high-strung” to “mellow,” observations somewhat anthropomorphic but ones that I’d generally agree with based on what I’ve seen in the woods (the buck I’m currently gnawing on I’d say was “daydreaming” about water, forage or does elsewhere.)

Wirsing, who previously studied sharks off Australia and found that their presence led to more seagrass, shares some preliminary thoughts on Washington’s deer and their relationship with wolves:

“Our deployments so far are beginning to paint the picture that if you’re a deer and you are in a landscape that is being hunted by wolves, you need to spend a lot of time with your ears perked up and your eyes peeled looking around for these animals because of course you don’t want to let wolves to get too close,” he says.

Continuing, Wirsing says, “We’re learning that probably the majority of the impact that predators have on prey species in ecosystems is by being what we would call ‘an agent of intimidation,’ or in other words, a threat. By merely being a threat, predators can affect entire prey populations, inducing many different individuals to play it safe. And when the entire prey population plays it safe, that’s an entire population of deer that aren’t eating as many plants, and that can have huge benefits for plant communities.”

The argument scientists overall are making is that with top predators, whether they sharks or wolves, there’s just more to the landscape — it’s richer, it’s healthier, it’s, basically, more Yellowstoney.

I can’t argue with richer, healthier habitat, which works out for the critters we really like too, but sometimes scientists can be so GD maddening — so what about the health and body condition of deer in a wolfish environment? Doesn’t that matter too?!?!

(A just-out, livestock-industry-funded study from Oregon State University suggests that cattle can experience PTSD from wolf attacks on their herd.)

Maybe it’s just the audience the video was likely made for, but it doesn’t address that. It’s about more understanding of wolf behavior and argues for wolf protections.

In his interview with Ledoboer, Dellinger did note this:

“As we capture more deer in coming winters, we’ll get real data on whether or not the ones in the wolf zones have put on less weight during the good weather, thus going into winter with less fat reserves, and are they having lower pregnancy rates? Everyone understands that wolves do kill deer in their territories, but now we also want to know what their overall impact is. Does just having wolves around decrease a deer’s chances of survival or a doe’s chances of successfully rearing a fawn?”

That will make their work much more relatable for sportsmen as a whole — and will expand on Arthur Middleton’s work with Yellowstone elk fitness.

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7 thoughts on “‘Agent Of Intimidation’ — More On WA Deer-Wolf Video Study”

  1. — it’s richer, it’s healthier, it’s, basically, more Yellowstoney

    so…350 wolves will make WA more like Jellystone? *roll eyes*

  2. I read this article and “Beyond Boldt”, both written by Mr Walgamott. Reading these two articles is enough to convince me I don’t need to buy this magazine again. Is this crap published at Evergreen University in WA? What a bunch of bone heads!

  3. First a side note.. I really don’t think WA can hold 350 wolves given the high elevation Cascades with their low deer densities, the Columbia River basin and all it’s wheat fields (thank goodness for farmers and food production), and that WA has the highest human population of any state out west other than CA while also being the smallest state out west; though I could be wrong. Regardless I’m a hunter/outdoorsman and researcher. While wolves are super cool and I honestly do think they belong on the landscape I think we need to strike a balance between biological carrying capacity and social carrying capacity of wolves. With wolves the only way to make progress is to acknowledge our biases, that each side has some outlandish perceptions, and meet in the middle. The far left think wolves are a panacea for ecosystems, if a wolf craps on the ground it apparently has some huge ecological implications. The far right think elk die when they hear a wolf howl (both obviously sarcastic exaggerations). One day hopefully wolves will be like the other predators in that they are cool to see out in the wild, but we can manage them if need be, and we can put all our money in managing/restoring other species like bringing antelope back to WA. Any way enjoyed the article as always.

  4. Justin, if you and I sat down with a coffee/beer/apple juice we would most likely agree on 90% of what we discussed. The WDFW wolf plan has 15-18 BP before de-listing , 20-22 wolves/ BP = 360 +- wolves, then add dissperers ,and a 20 % under count and you get to 400 + plus wolves real quick.

  5. Hey Brett,

    I would say 95%! But not sure where you get 20-22/BP. Even the current minimum count only shows 10/BP. Granted that is with the minimum count of 52 in the state and 5 BP (or 10 animals so 42 non-breeders). I know wolves can be difficult to count…been trying to do it for about 5 years now in various parts of the country…but I don’t think the bios are missing half of all the wolves out there. As much as wolves travel dirt roads, accurate counts really aren’t out of the realm of possibility. I know with the packs I’m monitoring I’ve gotten solid agreement between three different methods (camera photos, DNA from scat, and aerial surveys). And I should I restated my first statement. Can WA hold 350 wolves? Yes. Will it? No, due to social tolerance, etc. Even though most of the prime wolf habitat is on the west side where all the greenies are you have to remember that is really only the I-5 belt line. Others on the west side really don’t get all warm and fuzzy over them. Plus WA is a heavily managed landscape which always leads to higher rates of wolf mortality (i.e., hit on roads, starvation due to smaller prey populations than unmanaged landscapes, control measures, etc.). Anyway, us bios only know a lot about a very little slice of life so even though some of us may talk like we know everything we really don’t….sometimes we have to resort to the SWAG method (scientific wild ars guess)!

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