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Thursday, February 14, 2013

Debunking the Wolf-Livestock Myth - Wolf Week - Day 4

Here it is.  Are you ready for it?

Indiscriminately killing wolves to control wolf predation on livestock is completely useless.  

There, I said it.  The truth has finally been revealed!  Now let's put an immediate end to wolf culls, wolf kill contests, and the idiocy that accompanies so much of what's currently going on with wolf 'management' in British Columbia, Alberta, Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming and get back to letting nature take care of things herself.  Deal?

Ahhh, if only it were that easy.  The saddest part of the words above is that that second sentence is 100% accurate and has been proven to be true time and time again by scientists and wolf biologists. 

But rather than use science, our provincial and state governments have decided to let politics rule the day and we're left dealing with the mess we currently see in northern British Columbia ("there are wolves everywhere" so let's see who can shoot the biggest one and the smallest one and we'll hand out a bunch of prizes like pack of rabid baboons -- my apologies to baboons for using this reference), in southwestern Alberta (where you can shoot a wolf at any time for any reason if you happen to know someone that owns a cow -- more about this later on), and throughout Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming (in what has to be the most brazen, publicized, vehement attack on wolves this continent has seen in the past fifty years).

Studies have repeatedly shown that indiscriminately killing wolves to control predation on livestock does not work


Brad Hill, the professional wildlife photographer from British Columbia that I mentioned in my Wolf Snares in the Backyard post on Day 1 of Wolf Week, and Carl Marshall, an amateur wildlife photographer from Kentucky, alerted me to two great articles/documents in the past 24 hours that really shed light on the perceived problem (that wolves kill cattle by the thousands) and on the real problem (that many ranchers harbour an inordinate amount of hatred for wolves and use their oversized political power to pressure governments into maintaining/enacting legislation that's barbaric and outdated) when dealing with the issue of wolf predation on livestock.

The first, an article in The Wildlife News called "What real public information about wolves looks like," contains a copy of a talk that Norman Bishop, a (retired) National Park Ranger for 36 years in Yellowstone National Park, gave in Bozeman, Montana on February 11th.  In it, Bishop immediately put the science behind three key loggerhead issues with wolves on the table, including livestock predation (and while he cites scientific facts from Montana, I think most of you can easily see how it relates to the rest of the provinces and states involved in wolf management in the northwest).

Bishop had this to say about livestock predation (his talk included fully-referenced footnotes that he provided publicly to back up his numbers):

"About 2.6 million cattle, including calves, live in Montana... Western Montana, where most wolves live, has fewer cattle than the east side of the state. As of 2009, there were 494,100 cattle there. Seventy-four of these animals were killed by wolves, or less than 0.015 percent of the western Montana cattle population."

He followed soon after with wolf kill statistics, noting that "64 wolves were killed in response, [with another] 166...taken in the 2011 hunt."  Then he noted that there is a fully functioning wolf compensation program in place to reimburse ranchers for livestock lost to wolves.

His conclusion from science-based numbers in Montana is that while the loss of a "teenager’s 4H calf or a small operator’s animals [may be] devastating," the livestock industry is not at risk from wolf predation.

The second document I took note of yesterday was one written by Wendy Keefover for WildEarth Guardians (thank you to Wendy and Lori Colt for allowing me to post this document in its entirety) entitled Northern Rocky Mountain Wolves: A Public Policy Process Failure -- How Two Special Interest Groups Hijacked Wolf Conservation in America (also fully-referenced).

This document starts off immediately providing answers to frequently asked questions about Northern Rockies wolves, such as, do wolves kill vast numbers of livestock?  The answer is shocking only in that it clearly reveals just how insignificant the threat of wolf predation is to the livestock industry:

"No. This constant complaint by the livestock industry is without merit. Wolves have killed less than one percent of the cattle or sheep inventories in the Northern Rockies. Even in Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming where most wolves live (and before the commencement of wolf hunting in 2011-2012) and even using unverified livestock loss data (that is, numbers that are based upon livestock growers’ uninvestigated complaints), wolves killed less than one percent of the cattle (0.07 percent) and sheep (0.22 percent) inventories in those states. Verified livestock losses are even lower.

These livestock loss numbers mirror the national average where all other carnivores (i.e., coyotes, cougars, bears and domestic dogs) killed less than 0.5 percent of the (2010) cattle and (2009) sheep inventory in the entire United States. The biggest source of mortality to livestock actually comes from disease, illness, birthing problems and weather, but not from native carnivores such as wolves."

So the state response to numbers like these (0.07 percent means that 7 in every 10,000 cattle was reported to be killed by wolves and the verified numbers were even lower) was a bit shocking:  if you can stomach this, a whopping 62,000 tags were sold for wolf hunting and trapping in Idaho and Montana alone for the 2011-12 season.  By contrast, there were only estimated to be 1271 wolves in those states at the end of 2010!

Will there come a day when wolves can roam freely outside our national parks without fear of persecution?


A large part of this hatred is bred from the livestock industry.  Returning to Canada for a moment, we are still dealing with the aftermath of this ridiculous Wolf Kill Contest in the Fort St. John area in northern British Columbia.  Almost everyone on the side of the hunters up there said the exact same four things (which I'm sure are the exact same nonsensical things that wolf haters in Montana and Alberta and so on are saying):

1. we need to kill the wolves because there are way too many of them
- wolves are self-regulating animals at the top of the food chain. They regulate their own populations based on the available food supply.

2. we need to kill the wolves because our ranchers are losing hundreds/thousands of cattle to them
- a Vancouver Sun article (October 1, 2012) exposed how ridiculous some of the cattle industry's claims are/were (Kevin Boon of the B.C. Cattlemen's Association claimed the losses to wolf predation totaled $15 million dollars a year!). Another Sun article has ranchers in B.C. claiming they lose 10% of their cattle to predation, yet the wolf compensation program for the province could only verify a total of 133 wolf-predation losses out of hundreds of thousands of cattle.

3. we need to kill the wolves because they're killing all our big game (moose, deer, etc)
 - stay tuned tomorrow and I'll debunk that myth, too.

4. this is none of your business, you live in a city and have no idea how it is in the north (aka, rural living)
- I live in a town on the edge of the wilderness in the midst of wolves.  But even if I did live in a city, how exactly does that give me less say when it comes to our shared natural resources?

Meanwhile, here in Alberta, ranchers get to run and gun under the radar thanks to some archaic wolf management policies from our 22 year-old Wolf Management Plan.  Did you know that if you have livestock on public land in Alberta that you can shoot wolves on sight at any time of year, young or old.  Worse yet, you can bring on hired guns to shoot wolves at any time of year, young or old...ON PUBLIC LANDS.  What is wrong with this picture?!! 

So what can we do about all of this?  How do we enact change in B.C., Alberta, Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming when the facts clearly show that livestock predation is not an issue and that it is not a valid reason for the widespread wolf persecution that we're currently seeing?

First and foremost, we need to continue to band together via social media networks and online, growing our collective voice in order to increase our ability to put pressure on the political parties at the helm.  In British Columbia in particular, the wolf issue, and the issue of wildlife management in general, may play a huge role in who gets voted in come this spring's provincial election. The NDP party is the only one that has thus far indicated an interest in reviewing the province's Wolf Management Plan and they are also the only ones who've indicated a serious interest in revamping wildlife management as a whole.

Second, we need to support groups (both financially and emotionally) that are fighting on behalf of wild wolves in the northwest, like Pacific Wild in British Columbia and WildEarth Guardians or WolfWatcher in the States (and please let me know if there are other groups you would like to see mentioned here).

And finally, we need to begin educating our youth to the realities (and joys) of having wild wolves on the landscape (I'll have more about this tomorrow).  They are not the natural-born killers Hollywood portrays them to be, rather, they are complex, social animals that deserve our admiration and respect.

Thank you everyone for your efforts and support, please feel free to leave your Comments below as I would love to hear your feedback.

Sincerely,

John

16 comments:

  1. Excellent article, John. Thank you so much for helping to publicize this extremely important issue. It's truly scary to realize there is so much barbarism, short-sightedness and stupidity in the world!

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  2. That was such a wonderfully written piece thank you....
    I hope we can save the wild ones from such unjust vilification by minority groups.
    Just lately everytime I open up my facebook I have tears in my eyes wondering how on earth we can save them. You have made me feel better today....

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  3. Excellent research John. Any plans to run for office?

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  4. Lets take this head on. The real issues here are jealous greed (aka the wolves are killing elk I want to kill) and power (no one should be able to tell me what i can do or in the American West - tell me that I have to accept wolves on the land). The court of public opinion and the law will protect wild places and wild things when no amount of reasoned argument can change the mind of a person who only uses his arguments to selfish ends. Let's stand up and be heard.

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  5. Wonderful article. This information has to be kept in the news. Education is a key motivator.

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  6. All very good information. Another good book to look at is called "The Bond" written by Wayne Pacelle President and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States. He devotes a section of the book to the cruel practices being carried out against wildlife (wood buffalo, wolves). It is a real eye opener to all the political machinations that go on that are driven by small interest groups such as hunters and cattlemen even though they do not represent the majority public opinion. Essentially government wildlife services are having their mandates controlled by these small interest groups and we as the general public need to raise our voices even louder and expose them for what they are.

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  7. Lets learn to live with the wolves. They were here first. Ranchers take a stand to help the wolves and not destroy them. Really, we can all work together with a little effort.

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  8. Again, John, Thank you! Well researched, and well backed up. I appreciate you taking a proactive stance on a sensitive subject. I'm sure you have had a bit of negative backlash too, but I hope not. -- I come to your area about once a year, and look forward to observing wolves, but so far have only been lucky enough to see one.
    As you have indicated, Nature (when left alone) does a good job of keeping things in balance. Let's give it a chance.

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  9. Nice article John.
    To stop the ranchers political power, I would suggest that all wolf lovers,should boycot cattle meat and replace it by pork. "No wolves, no beef". The only way to stop them is taking their money

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  10. ooooohhhh, my bad. I guess that the observation, and intelligence, of one photographer would know more than what statistical modelling based on numerous independent variables and tens of thousands of unique individual observations can accomplish. I think that since farmers have wolf food readily at hand (and there are more farmers across North America than 1 photographer), that they might be a better judge of how many wolves there actually are. But hey, what do I know. Numerous independent witness accounts and statistical modelling are probably all wrong too. You're right. That is more likely and makes more sense...

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  11. Feel free to point out all this "statistical modelling" that you refer to. Btw, did you know there are also tens of thousands of unique individual sasquatch/bigfoot observations out there? Yet I don't hear you screaming about there being way too many sasquatches.

    Or perhaps rather than me wait for your imaginary "statistics," you could just read the fully-referenced statistics I provide above. Wow, that was easy!

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  12. As always such a pleasure to read your articles. I'm gearing up to write to the government yet again and your articles inspire me. Thank you.

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  13. Good information and, like always, it's a pleasure reading your work!

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  14. Thank you for putting this article together. It's all true; the impact of wolves on Livestock is minimal compared to other losses!

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