No science in indiscriminate hunting

2013-02-28T08:15:00Z 2013-03-11T11:50:49Z No science in indiscriminate huntingGuest column by GEORGE WUERTHNER missoulian.com
February 28, 2013 8:15 am  • 

Gov. Steve Bullock was recently quoted as supporting legislation that would increase the killing of wolves because the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks supports the legislation.

Bullock was quoted as saying: “... at the end of the day we need to base these decisions on science, not on politics …” Unfortunately, indiscriminate killing of wolves is largely about politics and ignores the best science.

Predator killing creates a self-fulfilling feedback mechanism, whereby more wolves (cougar, bears, coyotes) are indiscriminately killed, the greater social disruptions, resulting in additional conflicts, and more demand for additional killing.

We’ve seen this cycle for decades in our failed attempts to reduce coyote depredations. As Albert Einstein has said, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

There are good scientific reasons why indiscriminate killing (which hunting and trapping are) fails to get the expected results.

The loss of experienced, older animals and their “cultural” knowledge of their territory may mean the remaining wolves will starve or seek out easy prey like livestock.

With wolves, the loss of pack members may result in an inability to hold on to territory, forcing the remaining pack members into new territory where they may not know wildlife use patterns – such as where elk calve or migration corridors. Again this may cause them to seek out livestock for food.

When there is heavy mortality and fragmented packs, populations are skewed toward younger animals. This ultimately leads to a greater number of breeding pairs, and even higher number of young pups.

The end result is a higher percentage of young inexperienced animals, which like human teenagers, are more inclined towards risky behavior and lack the skills to survive. This naturally predisposes them to seeking easy prey like livestock.

Another problem with indiscriminate predator killing is that it often removes the very animals that are the least likely to be involved in livestock depredations. The majority of hunting occurs on the larger blocks of public land. The wolf pack that is attacking cattle on private ranchlands are unlikely to be the animals removed by hunters and/or trappers.

Worse, current state policies ignore or devalue the multiple ecological benefits of predators – from reduction of disease transmission among other species such as elk and deer, to restoration of riparian areas and increases in both songbirds and trout.

Striving to keep predator numbers well below the number that actually influences ungulate populations seriously undermines the ecological function of predation, and contributes to ecological impoverishment.

Finally there is the ethical question. One continuously hears about fair chase and ethical behavior regarding hunting. What is ethical about killing animals you don’t eat? Is gratuitous killing ethical behavior? Most U.S. citizens no longer hunt. They only accept hunting if they believe hunters are involved in ethical hunting practices. Montana FWP’s backward and archaic policies are undermining ultimately public support for hunting in general.

There may be an occasional need to surgically remove a particularly troublesome animal, however that is entirely different from the indiscriminate slaughter Montana FWP gratuitously calls “hunting.”

The bottom line is Montana FWP does not use science to manage predators. Its predator policies are archaic, unethical and often self-defeating relics from the past. It’s time for Montana to enter the 21st century and manage predators with a scientific understanding of their social ecology and treating predators with the respect they deserve.

George Wuerthner is a former Montana hunting guide and ecologist who writes from Helena.

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(20) Comments

  1. Iceman9
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    Iceman9 - March 07, 2013 1:59 am
    Non-native? What have you been smoking? That's just a myth. Even a 2-year old could tell you that.
  2. Iceman9
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    Iceman9 - March 07, 2013 1:59 am
    Better than pimping asinine wackos like you. In Oregon, the "no kill" laws have seen many ranchers start using non-lethal protection means where possible. And believe it or not, the number of wolves have gone up, but since then, the number of depredations in Oregon has gone DOWN. What do you say to that?
  3. Iceman9
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    Iceman9 - March 07, 2013 1:56 am
    Are you sure it wasn't humans who decimated the elk numbers? Or disease?
  4. Iceman9
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    Iceman9 - March 07, 2013 1:55 am
    Even if they did know that it hurt them, they wouldn't care.
  5. NoBSplease
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    NoBSplease - March 02, 2013 9:19 pm
    As a former wildlife biologist and hunter who supports wolves in our environment as well as the need to manage this population, it's sad to witness the selectively and self-serving use of information and quotes by Wuerthner and Gadfly as they try and argue this issue. Most wolf researchers/experts stated that wolves were recovered in the northern Rockies years ago. Only several frivolous and delaying lawsuits by extreme environmental groups, even against the Obama Administration's efforts to delist wolves, delayed the inevitable. Then there's that little matter of just about every Democrat (the environmentalists) in the Montana legislature also recently voting to liberalize wolf hunting regulations to help bring troublesome wolf populations down in some regions. Too bad they don't realize that their extreme viewpoint just serves to hurt their cause more than it helps it. Or maybe not.
  6. Paradise Valley
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    Paradise Valley - March 02, 2013 4:41 pm
    Hey there Gadfly - who exactly do you think wiped out the elk in Paradise Valley and the Bitteroot since the wolves showed up? Space aliens maybe??
  7. Gadfly
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    Gadfly - March 01, 2013 11:09 pm
    Wolves do not need to be controlled, as anti-wolf wing nuts scream. Elk populations have increased about 37% (from 89,000 in 1989 t0 over 140,000 in 2012) in Montana since wolf introduction and self-reintroduction. The elk-wolf- predator relationship has stabilized in Yellowstone with a self-regulating ecological system with positive cascading effects on flora and fauna life as was in the 1870's, before man interference and manipulation. Wolves killed 74 cattle in 2011 in Montana. There are 2,500,000 cattle in Montana, 74 divided by 2,500,000 is .00029 percent, statistically zero. The 2 main reasons fro killing wolves, who will regulate themselves, as do all predators, is mute. So, the reason for killing wolves is something irrational, visceral, ant-predator hysteria, anti-federal government hysteria, and anti-conservation. What is it but yokel-vocal-conservative-sportsmen-rancher and their ilk (FWP, USFWS, and USDA Wildlife Services, conservative far right state legislatures) craziness and legislatures like them, who reflect them? Or, it could be that these “managers” think they are elk and ungulate farming by marginalizing predators, so then the “sportsmen” will have more ungulates to kill themselves, for a license fee of course.

    The only way most of these right wing nut anti-wolfers in Montana legislature and other western state legislatures and sporting groups and ranchers are going to see a wolf is on the Discovery Channel or in National Geographic. There is something primordial, totally irrational going on here among these ant-wolfers. Those who care about predators and wolves in particular, must start making a broader appeal to America, stop preaching so much to the choir, produce, more videos and documentaries, and tell more stories such as “Romeo, The Story of An Alaskan Wolf by John Hyde”. We are losing the battle, unless we appeal to a larger audience. We are either preaching to the choir when talking to ourselves or talking to deaf ears when we talk to the right and address their folklore. Find some wildlife friendly politicians and move to have the wolves re-listed.

    It is blatantly obvious that state management is too political, ignorant, misinformed, anti-science, hysterical, irrational, based on primordial fear, visceral, crazy driven to leave it to redneck states, like Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, and mid-western states like Wisconsin. It was insane to de-list the wolf and turn it over to state management and traditional enemies of predator wildlife and balanced wilderness ecological systems.
  8. Gadfly
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    Gadfly - March 01, 2013 10:47 pm
    Asinine Wolf Killing Called Management
    Wolves never should have been de-listed from protection by political maneuverings and now politically managed in western states that are hostile toward them and by agencies that have traditionally been hostile to them in particular as well as other predators. Western and mid-western states are going very far against hunting ethics or anything that resembles fair chase to cull wolf populations down to marginal numbers. Now, in Montana and other states we are even having a trapping season, extended seasons, and even legislators proposing more drastic measures in the coming year. Basically, this majestic, apex animal is being treated as a varmint by sportsmen, ranchers, state and federal wildlife agencies. Hostile western states cannot responsibly manage the wolves or even other predators. Wolves are a very healthy factor in wilderness ecological systems. Man is not. We need man-management more with regard to man’s long traditions of blood sports and war on wildlife.
    Managing wolves by hunting and trapping is asinine, cruel, barbaric and unnecessary, and poor management strategy, and terrible public relations. It does not work well. It is bad public relations for Montana and other western states. It is vendetta, anti-wolf hysteria, pushed by self-serving hunters, trappers, ranchers, and wolf hating yokels, with a mindset of anti-wolf folklore over the centuries, supported by rancher politicians and rancher government officials and agencies. If Montana and other states have to hunt, why not stick with a fair chase season and then call it good no matter what the outcome. Spare us the perverse arguments of need for management by trapping, extended hunt seasons, bounties, more than one kill ticket, use of calling devices, need to hit a quota, or use of other barbaric measures of unneeded control. Hunting and trapping are barbaric “blood sports” and a war on wildlife, not a legitimate management tools. We do not do near enough about non-lethal means of control or management.
    Actually, hunting wolves is asinine. A hunt and trap season is indiscriminate in killing. Wolves causing no problems are killed. Alpha males and females are killed. Wolves are a very social family with special roles assigned. Families are disrupted. Juveniles are left to learn on their own. Pups are left to die or learn on their own when a female parent is killed. Wolves and packs that are leaving humans alone are killed. Animals are wounded and not killed. Many hunters and trappers take a sadistic pleasure in how they kill. Hunting and trapping tends to drive down the average age of wolf populations. Some younger wolves are not given the opportunity to learn from adults to stay away from human domains and how to hunt their natural prey. Wolf packs are fragmented and de-stabilized. Wolves do not need to be managed by hunting or trapping at all. They will fill up wilderness niches and limit their own populations relative to prey and territory as they have in Yellowstone Park. With respect to Yellowstone wolves, Montana and Wyoming are giving themselves a black eye with the rest of the nation with an anti-tourism, anti-science, anti-wolf hysteria.
    Trapping is cruel even if done legally, even if it is a tradition, even if seen as a management tool. Traps are cruel. It should be banned for the public, allowed as necessary for wildlife officials who use it vastly too much with a pervasive kill attitude of their own. Why should animals suffer for private economic gain on fur sales or to artificially farm (boost) elk herds (elk farming)? In the USA over 4 million animals are trapped each year for “sport” and millions more for “management” and millions more as collateral damage. Hunters worldwide kill over 100 million animals. USDA Wildlife Services sees killing animals, for control or management, as their mission.
    The western states are locked into a mindset of quotas and marginalizing wolf populations by hunting and trapping and other lethal methods. Quotas for delisting were based on outdated figures for sustainable wolf populations. Wolves have not harmed game populations or significantly harmed stock populations (statistically zero, .0029%), contrary to repeated and repeated anecdotal opinion. Elk populations are up, from around 89,000 in 1989 to over 140,000 plus now. Hunters have great seasons on killing ungulates in Montana, 25,000 elk in 2010 and 90,000 deer (per FWP). Elk harvest is generally up, 100 to 127% per MT FWP. Wolves regulate their own populations as they have in Yellowstone where their numbers and bear numbers go down naturally. Problem wolves and problem packs should be “managed” but usually not always by lethal means and not by hunters and trappers. Wildlife agencies seem only to have a kill mentality wanting to control predators by hunting and trapping and other lethal means. Wolves belong in the wilderness and are good for the ecological systems as has been proven in Yellowstone. Wolves are more natural in the wild than man, who no longer needs it for subsistence; now only for sport killing—- take a camera instead and go to the grocery to get your meat, ride a hike or bike or horse, or go camping.
    http://exposingthebiggame.wordpress.com/2013/01/26/1445/
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=By1rDn_DrmA&feature=share

    http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=414029708666616&set=a.203902623012660.46564.191368640932725&type=1&relevant_count=1&ref=nf

    http://www.facebook.com/Anti.HuntingUSA?ref=stream
  9. Gadfly
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    Gadfly - March 01, 2013 10:47 pm
    Natural Order of Things Farming Animals to Kill Them

    It is a good thing that FWP, MSU researchers, yokels came along to inform us that predators kill prey and that it is upsetting for the prey and the prey has to move their arses and it is stressful. Hundreds of thousands of years of predator prey relationships and naturally balanced wildlife ecosystems have to be reviewed as a result and the sportsmen-trapper-rancher-wildlife agency groups will make things right with removal of the most of the predators, again, if they have their way, killed so that the prey can relax and eat grass until the human groups can come along and kill them, with a legitimate license of course or need for management, which is not upsetting to the prey because this is the natural order of things, man’s manifest destiny and all. Being hunted by natural predators is upsetting. It is scary to be hunted and killed, unless it is by humans. So, from us predators and prey, thank you humans, for relieving our stress and making it right. We will graze in tranquility until then. We are here to be killed by you for you. Enjoy your traditions of killing us for sport and management. Nature did not know what she was doing. Wildlife managers have blessed us. Killing us provides sport, tradition, wholesome time well spent, work, fur, trophies, and it is all good for us! Amen. Let it be so. Study us and farm us so you can kill us. It is stewardship by humans.
  10. Gadfly
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    Gadfly - March 01, 2013 10:46 pm
    Un-believable that you yokels think that wolves do so much damage (in your imagination only) and are not a healthy part of a wildlife ecological system and think that you are!
  11. Gadfly
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    Gadfly - March 01, 2013 10:42 pm
    Non-native species!? The gray wolf is a native species and belongs in the ecological systems, but not yokels.

    Nabeki commented on Dispelling The Canadian Wolf Myth.
    in response to CarlaVelosoWolf:
    The “Non-Native, Invasive Canadian Gray Wolf” myth has got to be the most annoying anti-wolf myth. However, there is some truth to it. Let me explain: The native gray wolf was either Canis lupus irremotus or Canis lupus nubilus, depending on which biologist you speak with (it should be mentioned that the former is increasingly [...]
    CarlaVelosoWolf.....The Canadian wolf myth, is exactly what it states, a myth. Both Canis Lupus Occidentalis - The Mackenzie Valley wolf and Canis Lupus Irremotus -The Northern Rocky Mountain wolf, both roamed the Northern Rockies before the Western extermination. Wolves don't understand boundaries, they cross freely across them and have been doing so for tens of thousands of years. Basically a wolf is a wolf, with slight variations in size and coat color. Canis lupus Irremotus was wiped out during the Western extermination although some scientists believe it was bred out of existence by Canis lupus Occidentalis and it's even been reported that Canis lupis Irremotus may still exist in Northwest Montana. For the wolves, For the wild ones, Nabeki


  12. Gadfly
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    Gadfly - March 01, 2013 10:38 pm
    There is certainly no science on hunter-sportsmen anecdotal nonsense:

    Natural Order of Things Farming Animals to Kill Them

    It is a good thing that FWP, MSU researchers, yokels came along to inform us that predators kill prey and that it is upsetting for the prey and the prey has to move their arses and it is stressful. Hundreds of thousands of years of predator prey relationships and naturally balanced wildlife ecosystems have to be reviewed as a result and the sportsmen-trapper-rancher-wildlife agency groups will make things right with removal of the most of the predators, again, if they have their way, killed so that the prey can relax and eat grass until the human groups can come along and kill them, with a legitimate license of course or need for management, which is not upsetting to the prey because this is the natural order of things, man’s manifest destiny and all. Being hunted by natural predators is upsetting. It is scary to be hunted and killed, unless it is by humans. So, from us predators and prey, thank you humans, for relieving our stress and making it right. We will graze in tranquility until then. We are here to be killed by you for you. Enjoy your traditions of killing us for sport and management. Nature did not know what she was doing. Wildlife managers have blessed us. Killing us provides sport, tradition, wholesome time well spent, work, fur, trophies, and it is all good for us! Amen. Let it be so. Study us and farm us so you can kill us. It is stewardship by humans.
  13. Gadfly
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    Gadfly - March 01, 2013 10:36 pm
    Now come on anti-wolfer, less than a hundred wolves in and around Paradise Valley did not kill thousands of elk! Where do you people come up with this stuff, over beer or coffee, just make stuff up and share it and believe it. Hunters with two hunt seasons per year have been the major problem outside Yellowstone.

    Too few wolves in Montana, in and around Yellowstone, in greater Yellowstone region to do all the damage you hysterical antiwolfers keep imagining and spreading folklore about. A study in Yellowstone, NPS< found the the following:

    YNP Park Staff Data on Wolves 2011
    Project staff detected 343 kills (definite, probable, and possible combined) made by wolves in 2011, including 267 elk (78%), 15 bison (4%), 18 deer (5%), 1 moose (<1%), 2 pronghorn (<1%), 2 bighorn sheep (<1%), 2 badgers (< 1%), 1 jackrabbit (<1%), 14 coyotes (4%), 1 raven (< 1%), 7 wolves (2%), and 13 unknown prey (4%). The composition of elk kills was 27% calves, 3% yearlings, 44% cows, 18% bulls, 3% adults of unknown sex, and 6% of unknown sex and age. Bison kills included 5 calves, 1 yearling, 2 cows, 6 bulls, and 1 adult of unknown sex.
  14. Paradise Valley
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    Paradise Valley - March 01, 2013 4:40 pm
    Living a couple decades in Paradise Valley (N. of YNP) I know we had about 20,000 elk in the mid '90s (too many) and now we have about 3,000 (too few). The difference? Wolves. Lots of them. One year in particular Ed Bangs told me my property was "contested ground" between two packs. Mill Ck. & Pine Ck. We saw them a lot. They killed deer right in front of us on mowed areas of our lawn and literally crapped on our front porch. Big bloody, hairy, boney ugly piles right on the scuff carpet at the door. Ed said be careful cleaning it up and don't let our dog outside at night, especially between Thanksgiving and Valentines Day when the packs are "particularly agressive" establishing their territories and killing all canines they can that are not in their packs.
    Good science, bad science or none - in Paradise Valley we have had too many wolves killing too many things they shouldn't for too many years to not thin them out a whole bunch. Their populations have become so large many I see now are mange riddled and look terribly unhealthy. Even the urban area bleeding hearts types that have never actually seen a wolve rip intestines out of an animal and start eating it alive could love these critters with their bleeding scabs and scrawny bodies.
    The real lack of science here is the idiocy that reintroduced them in YNP in the first place and somehow thought they would stay there and not cause problems for themselves and everyone else down the road.
  15. DVanVorous
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    DVanVorous - February 28, 2013 3:49 pm
    Mind you I don't agree with the authors attitude but there is evidence to support the spread out of the reintroduced population in the form of 1 tagged female wolf killed in CO from Yellowstone around 2004 time and other more recent sightings of tagged animals in Western WA.

    I would be real interested in seeing the DFG report on the average age of the animals taken since MT opened the season for wolves; $ to doughnuts the majority are young inexperienced critters not the savvy older pack members which is counter the argument the author is trying to make...
  16. reality22f
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    reality22f - February 28, 2013 1:51 pm
    Is George out pimping his books again? According to George all heck should have broken out after the hunts in 2009 and 2011 in Idaho.....the truth is depredation was DOWN 40 % the first year and now even more... where are the numbers George! Why didn't George tell the readers which way depredation has headed since those hunts took place? Why didn't the results of recent hunts match what you have to say in this blog? According to him ranchers should be pulling out their hair and going out of business left and right from depredation issues.

    As with all the "predators before people" people good old George has the audacity to say we need to treat "predators with the respect they deserve" What about treating the Ranchers and Sportsman with the respect they deserve! The unanimous vote by the legislator on bill hb73 was a statement to you George! The resolutions by 19 Northern Wisconsin County boards were statements to you George!

    I find it interesting that they didn't include the "and author" part of his bio at the end of his article.

    George.....pretty sad that you've gone from pimping spiking trees to pimping wolves.......
    http://www.brontaylor.com/courses/pdf/Wuerthner--spiking5(7)20(aug85).pdf
  17. Roger
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    Roger - February 28, 2013 1:08 pm
    Wuethner is just another nonsense-spewing radical environmentalcase.
  18. BigTree
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    BigTree - February 28, 2013 1:03 pm
    Wolves should never have been artificially reintroduced back into West. The biologist and wolf supporters at the time never took into consideration the unintended consequences their reintroduction would have.

  19. D
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    D - February 28, 2013 10:08 am
    So what are the ecological ramifications of introducing non-native species (wolves) into an ecosystem?

    Mr. Wuerthner, a self-appointed so-called "ecologist," is a laughing stock to those who are really ecologists.
  20. MTSierra
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    MTSierra - February 28, 2013 8:50 am
    And you have science to prove all your hypothesis about how wolves will spread out when there are less wovles?
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