Culling Wolf Populations May Increase Livestock Attacks

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While it may sound counter-intuitive, a new study suggests that killing wolves increases livestock attacks.

In a study published yesterday in the journal PLOS One, lead author Rob Wielgus, professor of wildlife ecology and director of the university’s Large Carnivore Conservation Lab posits that the killing of wolves to save livestock is a misguided effort.

In fact, Wielgus along with other researchers at Washington State University found that every time a wolf was killed in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming in the last 25 years, livestock attacks went up by 5% the following year. The reason being that hunters and those tasked with controlling the wolf populations of these western states since their reintroduction in the 1990s, don’t know what wolf they are killing beyond the one in their gun sights.

Culling Wolf: Alpha as babysitter

The killing of the alpha male or female, which control the pack with a near iron fist (paw) sees an increase in breeding pairs. And breeding pairs need to feed their young and are more inclined to attack livestock to this end according to Wielgus.

“It’s like killing the schoolteacher, the animals that keep everyone else in line,” he said. “You’ve got no brakes anymore.”

The study was funded by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

“It is a well-constructed analysis and good science,” said John Pierce, the chief scientist for the Department. “But it kind of tees up the question of how does social behavior of wolves interplay with prey interactions, and depredation interactions.”

Lobbyists react to report

That sentiment is not one shared by lobbyists for livestock organizations. Jamie Henneman, a spokeswoman for the group Washington Residents Against Wolves and spokeswoman for Stevens County Cattlemen’s Association said the report “is not clean science.

“Frankly, it is a bit shameful,” added Ms. Henneman.

Those comments are hardly deterring Mr. Wielgus from continuing his work.

“They just want to get rid of wolves,” he said. “Livestock lobbyists are pretty much vehemently opposed to my research,” he added. “But in terms of hard science, it stood the test.”

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