Quantifying the effects of delisting wolves after the first state began lethal management
July 31, 2021
Predators and their protection are controversial worldwide. Gray wolves, Canis lupus, lost U.S. federal protection (delisting) and the State of Wisconsin began lethal management first among all states and tribes that regained authority over wolves. Here we evaluated the initial success of reaching the state’s explicit objective, “…to allow for a sustainable harvest that neither increases nor decreases the state’s wolf population…” We used official state figures for hunter-killed wolves, population estimates from April 2017–2020, and the latest peer-reviewed model of individual wolf survival to estimate additional deaths resulting from federal delisting. More than half of the additional deaths were predicted to be cryptic poaching under the assumption that this period resembled past periods of liberalized wolf-killing in Wisconsin. We used a precautionary approach to construct three conservative scenarios to predict the current status of this wolf population and a minimum estimate of population decline since April 2020. From our scenarios that vary in growth rates and additional mortality estimates, we expect a maximum of 695–751 wolves to be alive in Wisconsin by 15 April 2021, a minimum 27–33% decline in the preceding 12 months. This contradicts the state expectation of no change in the population size. We draw a conclusion about the adequacy of regulatory mechanisms under state control of wolves and discuss the particular governance conditions met in Wisconsin. We recommend greater rigor and independent review of the science used by agencies to plan wolf hunting quotas and methods. We recommend clearer division of duties between state wildlife agencies, legislatures, and courts. We recommend federal governments reconsider the practice of sudden deregulation of wolf management and instead recommend they consider protecting predators as non-game or transition more slowly to subnational authority, to avoid the need for emergency relisting.
Author(s): Adrian Treves, Francisco J. Santiago-Ávila, Karann Putrevu