Killing Wolves To Prevent Predation On Livestock May Protect One Farm But Harm Neighbors
June 20, 2019
Large carnivores, such as gray wolves, Canis lupus, are difficult to protect in mixed-use
landscapes because some people perceive them as dangerous and because they sometimes threaten human property and safety. Governments may respond by killing carnivores in an effort to prevent repeated conflicts or threats, although the functional effectiveness of lethal methods has long been questioned. We evaluated two methods of government intervention following independent events of verified wolf predation on domestic animals (depredation) in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, USA between 1998–2014, at three spatial scales. We evaluated two intervention methods using log-rank tests and conditional Cox recurrent event, gap time models based on retrospective analyses of the following quasiexperimental treatments: (1) selective killing of wolves by trapping near sites of verified depredation, and (2) advice to owners and haphazard use of non-lethal methods without wolf-killing. The government did not randomly assign treatments and used a pseudo-control (no removal of wolves was not a true control), but the federal permission to intervene lethally was granted and rescinded independent of events on the ground. Hazard ratios suggest lethal intervention was associated with an insignificant 27% lower risk of recurrence of events at trapping sites, but offset by an insignificant 22% increase in risk of recurrence at sites up to 5.42 km distant in the same year, compared to the non-lethal treatment. Our results do not support the hypothesis that Michigan’s use of lethal intervention after wolf depredations was effective for reducing the future risk of recurrence in the vicinities of trapping sites. Examining only the sites of intervention is incomplete because neighbors near trapping sites may suffer the recurrence of depredations. We propose two new hypotheses for perceived effectiveness of lethal methods: (a) killing predators may be perceived as effective because of the benefits to a small minority of farmers, and (b) if neighbors experience side-effects of lethal intervention such as displaced depredations, they may perceive the problem growing and then demand more lethal intervention rather than detecting problems spreading from the first trapping site. Ethical wildlife management guided by the “best scientific and commercial data available” would suggest suspending the standard method of trapping wolves in favor of non-lethal methods (livestock guarding dogs or fladry) that have been proven effective in preventing livestock losses in Michigan and elsewhere.
Author(s): Francisco J. Santiago-Avila, Ari M. Cornman, Adrian Treves