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New Wolf Hunt Proposals Lead to Slippery Slope

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In a May 1st article in the Independent Record, FWP Recommends Expanded Wolf Hunt Season and Bag Limit,  George Pauley, FWP Wildlife Management Chief, said the reasons for the proposed changes in Montana’s 2013-14 wolf hunting season are twofold.  “We’re just looking for opportunities to hunt wolves … and it’s an attempt to reduce the population,” Pauley said. “We’ve always had a philosophy of incrementally increasing harvest rates and opportunities.”

Perhaps Mr. Pauley, Montana FWP, and other similarly-minded state wildlife agencies in the Northern Rockies need to read a 2010 study by Dr. Scott Creel and Dr. Ray Rotella.

The authors stated that predator control and sport hunting are established tools to manage large carnivores, but to their knowledge it was unprecedented for a species to move so rapidly from highly protected (via ESA) to heavily-hunted.

Dr. Creel and Dr. Rotella felt it was important to use all available data to assess the likely consequences of these changes in policy. For wolves, it was widely argued by state and federal wildlife agencies that wolf hunting had little effect on total mortality rates, so that a harvest of 28–50% per year could be sustained.

Based on the results of their investigation and contrary to “conventional wisdom” above, the authors concluded that:

  • there was a strong association between wolf hunting and total mortality rates across North American wolf populations; wolf hunting was associated with a “strongly additive or super-additive increase in total mortality.” Population growth declined as wolf hunting increased, even at low rates of wolf kills; and wolf populations declined with quotas much lower than the thresholds identified in current state and federal policies;
  • wolf populations would decline *beyond* the predictions of the management agencies;  that means, wolf hunting and other killing of wolves by humans would reduce wolf populations in excess of  wolf quotas;
  • altered pack structure that results from human-caused mortality (wolf hunting) plus an additional increment of wolf population loss that results from reduced breeding and survival is a significant concern because it results in additional wolf population losses beyond the mere number of wolves directly killed by humans;

Thus, Dr. Creel and Dr. Rotella concluded that state agencies should consider the effects of (1) the actual loss of the wolves planned or expected to be killed by humans directly (a.k.a.  ‘quotas’)  – plus (2) an additional increment of wolf population loss beyond that as a result of altered pack structure, reduced breeding and survival.  The effects of killing wolves on population growth may also not be fully manifested in one year. 

Both authors suggested that their results should be clearly expressed in policies for the management of large carnivores, particularly newly-delisted wolf populations in the Northern Rocky Mountains.


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