UW Researchers Poke Holes In WSU Wolf Removal Findings

The counterintuitive world of removing wolves that prey on livestock just got even more, er, counterintuitiver.

Using the same open-source data, University of Washington researchers could not replicate the results reached by researchers at Washington State University who in 2014 found removing livestock-killing wolves leads to increased chances of depredations the next year.

“We did not find any statistical support for the Wielgus and Peebles’s findings in this replication,” writes Nabin Baral of the UW’s School of Environmental and Forest Sciences in the College of the Environment, et al, in a paper published last week in the journal PLOS One. “This could be because the original models were misspecified. 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.”

A SCREEN SHOT FROM THE JOURNAL PLOS ONE SHOWS THE OPENING STATEMENTS OF THE NEW STUDY ON WOLF DEPREDATIONS AND REMOVALS.

A SCREEN SHOT FROM THE JOURNAL PLOS ONE SHOWS THE OPENING STATEMENTS OF THE NEW STUDY ON WOLF DEPREDATIONS AND REMOVALS.

The latest study follows on another that also challenges the findings of WSU’s Rob Wielgus and Kaylie Peebles.

Late last year researchers at Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks 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..

Wielgus criticized the findings of Baral, Stanley Asah, also of the UW, and Naraj Poudyal of a Nepalese university, telling the Spokane Spokesman-Review‘s Becky Kramer they “are not wildlife biologists” and have “never studied wolves.”

His findings had been hailed as all but The Final Word by some wolf advocates.

THE WEDGE PACK'S ALPHA MALE WAS NOTABLE FOR ITS LOPPED OFF TAIL. (WDFW)

THE ALPHA MALE OF THE CATTLE-GNAWING WEDGE PACK MOVES THROUGH A SNOWY NORTHEAST WASHINGTON FOREST IN WINTER 2012. (WDFW)

Baral acknowledged data gaps and being unable to draw hard conclusions, but just like how sabermetrics and other analytic pursuits are overturning conventional wisdom about who to pinch hit for and whether to go for it on fourth down, the results show that with wolves, some are black and some are white, but mostly there are a lot of gray ones.

“What you are seeing is an evolution of the science,” WDFW’s Donny Martorello told Kramer. “It’s a good dialog and it will better the science.”

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