Archive for the ‘Montana’ Tag

ROAM, ROAM ON THE RANGE   Leave a comment

From onEarth by Alisa Opar

This Montana cattle ranch is trying to ensure its operations benefit wildlife—and yes, that means wolves, too.

PHOTO: BRYAN ULRING

On a cool, sunny May morning, Hilary Zaranek set out on horseback from her log house in southwestern Montana with one thing on her mind: wolves.

Zaranek lives in the Centennial Valley, an immense expanse of grass- and wetlands ringed by the ragged peaks of the Centennial and Gravelly mountain ranges. The handful of people, mostly ranchers, who call this place home are vastly outnumbered by animals. Trumpeter swans and sandhill cranes are among the more than 260 bird species that inhabit the sweeping landscape, along with river otters, deer, elk, and, of course, loads of cattle. As grizzly and gray wolf populations have recovered in Yellowstone National Park (about 20 miles away), predators have been joining the ranks in increasing numbers, too.

Cattle ranchers have traditionally been hostile to large carnivores; wolves were nearly hunted, trapped, and poisoned to extinction in the Lower 48 a few decades ago, due in part to the threat they posed to livestock. Zaranek, who has done wolf research in Yellowstone and Canada and now works for the Centennial Valley Association, is trying to ease that relationship. She is testing whether range riders on horseback and ATV can minimize conflicts between livestock and predators.

Zaranek and two other riders she oversees are looking out for cattle from a half-dozen ranches in the area, including the J Bar L, a 30,000-acre operation where her husband works.

These cowboys, who all happen to be women, are just one of the ways J Bar L is trying to manage its grass-fed beef operation to benefit livestock, people, wildlife, and habitat. To figure out how best to do that, the ranch works with numerous partners, including NRDC (disclosure), the Nature Conservancy, and the Sage Grouse Initiative. Scientists are studying, for instance, whether structures that mimic beaver dams, installed to rehabilitate stream channels, may benefit Arctic grayling, a rare native fish that sports flamboyant, turquoise-spotted dorsal fins. And on two greater sage grouse leks, biologists are investigating what factors enable populations of these iconic—and possibly soon-to-be-endangered—birds to nest successfully.

But the ranch’s primary focus is moving the herd along in a way that mimics how bison once roamed: regularly rotating grazing to allow pastures to recover for months or even years between munching sessions, and ensuring the animals don’t cause lasting harm to sensitive areas, like springs and leks. As the herd chomps along, the ranchers put up portable, wildlife-friendly electric fences to keep them from wandering.

“People are willing to pay a premium for sustainably raised beef,” says J Bar L Ranch general manager Bryan Ulring. Last year, through Yellowstone Grassfed Beef, the ranch sold about 145,000 pounds of meat (or roughly 600,000 servings) to consumers across the country.

A NEW ATTITUDE

Despite the throwback to bison behavior, this is a thoroughly modern approach. Ranchers have traditionally turned out their cattle to graze largely unattended. But with predators rebounding, J Bar L and other operations in the Centennial Valley and Tom Miner Basin are taking a different tack, relying on Zaranek and the other range riders to patrol herds and keep an eye out for sick, injured, and dead animals. They also gather and settle cattle in the evening, part of an ongoing effort to rekindle the herd instinct. The mere presence of humans acts as a deterrent against attacks, Zaranek says.

Animals go missing from ranches for a slew of reasons, including predation, poisonous plants, lightning (yes, really), and brisket disease, which can cause heart failure in cows at high altitudes. The riders help get to the bottom of what’s causing deaths and disappearances out on the range because, as Zaranek says, “You can’t make good management decisions based on myth.”

That’s why she was out early that May morning, scouting for predator activity in the days before thousands of cattle would arrive for the summer. Grizzlies, of which five or six roam the valley, killed one calf last summer, as well as an adult cow—no small feat considering the bear likely weighed half as much as the 1,400 pound ungulate. This time, Zaranek saw evidence of wolves. “I found a really great hot spot,” she says while we sit at her kitchen table the day after the recon mission. “There were tons of tracks.” She says it looks like there may be three packs carving out territory in the valley this year, up from two in 2014.

Wolf pups in Yellowstone National Park

PHOTO: YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK

Wolf pups in Yellowstone National Park

KILLER INSTINCT

Last year, Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana were home to an estimated 1,657 wolves in 263 packs with a total of 75 breeding pairs, according to the Northern Rocky Mountain Wolf Recovery Program. The canids were confirmed as the killers of 140 cattle, 172 sheep, 4 dogs, a horse, and a donkey. Private and state agencies shelled out almost $275,000 in compensation for wolves damaging livestock. Wolves died, too, of course—ranchers and wildlife managers culled 161 of them for coming into conflict with livestock or other wildlife.

Rekindling the herd instinct is key to protecting cattle from wolf and grizzly attacks, says J Bar L Ranch general manager Ulring. He points to how the range riders encourage cattle to move as a herd and stick together, rather than run and scatter, when carnivores draw near—the old safety-in-numbers approach employed by animals ranging from bison to walruses to fish. Since J Bar L first started using range riders a few years ago, it hasn’t lost a single animal to predation when herds stay intact.

“Even last year, when we had cattle right by an active wolf den, we didn’t lose any,” says Ulring. “Cattle or wolves.” They used electric fencing to keep the herd tight and the wolves outside the perimeter.

“This is not just about dead animals,” says Ulring. “A stressed animal has minimal weight gain or can even lose weight. Our animals, even when they were near that den, they’re gaining more than three pounds a day.” All that extra poundage translates into dollars, allowing the ranch to sell more steaks and burgers.

“These techniques are proactive rather than reactive, so they prevent conflicts from happening in the first place,” says Zack Strong, a wildlife advocate with NRDC. Along with conservation strategies, NRDC helps J Bar L and other ranches purchase equipment and hire range riders (and even lends a hand with the electric fencing).

The approach may very well be a selling point, too. John Marzluff, a University of Washington biologist, is launching a statewide poll to gauge whether people would pay more for predator-friendly beef. “We’re also working with some stores to test-market it,” he told MotherBoard.

FIELD TESTS

Researcher Azzurra Valerio of the Large Carnivore Conservation Lab at Washington State University says she isn’t surprised to hear of the program’s success. Ranchers taking similar steps elsewhere in the West report fewer losses, too: the Blackfoot Challenge, in northwestern Montana, for instance, has seen a 93 percent drop in grizzly bear conflicts since it started using range riders and other deterrents in 2003. But Valerio cautions that although there are a lot of stories and anecdotes of livestock and predator harmony, “to my knowledge, there are no evaluations of the efficacy of nonlethal methods such as range riders or fences.” She hopes to change that.

Valerio is in the second year of a three-year study that aims to collect hard data; she’s got collars on six wolf packs, eight cattle herds, and one sheep operation, and is working with four range riders and three sheepherders. Valerio is looking at the number of livestock killed and the indirect influences wolves may have on a flock, such as weight loss and reproductive rates. Her findings, however, won’t be in for a few years.

Zaranek, too, speaks cautiously about the effort. “There’s a lot of potential,” but it’s still very new, she says. Rather than basing success on the number of cattle killed—or not—by predators, Zaranek uses another metric: the number of ranchers who say yes and stick with it. It won’t matter whether the measures work if nobody is willing to take a chance. So far, no one has dropped out.

PHOTO: BRYAN ULRING

Guest: Killing wolves will come back to haunt farmers and ranchers   Leave a comment

From:  Seattle Times

Dec 12, 2014 by Amaroq Weiss Special to The Times

Killing wolves to save livestock will lead to greater killing of livestock, guest columnist Amaroq Weiss writes, pointing to a new scientific study

A gray wolf

 

FOR decades, whenever wolves preyed on livestock, the routine response among many ranchers and wildlife managers across the West has been brutally simple: kill the wolves.

More dead wolves equal fewer dead cows and sheep, the reasoning went.

And in many cases the reasoning is likely dead wrong, according to research published recently by a leading Washington state wolf scientist.

Confounding widely held beliefs, the new study indicates lethal responses to livestock predation by wolves often lead to an increase in attacks, or depredations.

It’s a message that may not be heard in Washington, where state wildlife managers responded to livestock depredations by eradicating the Wedge pack in 2012 and killing the alpha female of the Huckleberry pack last summer. Recently, the state Department of Fish and Wildlife announced it will swiftly move to lethal tactics if the Huckleberry pack kills any livestock next spring and, in statements to conservation groups, has said it is considering “pre-emptive” killing of wolves. Both of these policies flout the state wolf plan, which emphasizes conflict-deterrence as opposed to simply killing wolves.

Killing of wolves by the state compounds illegal wolf-killing by those few who take things into their own hands.

Reports last month that the alpha female of the trouble-free Teanaway pack was fatally shot come on the heels of a Whitman County farmer chasing a wolf for miles before killing it, and Stevens County commissioners exhorting county residents to kill wolves. Earlier this year, a wolf from the Smackout pack was found illegally killed in Stevens County and another wolf was discovered gunned down in Ferry County.

The groundbreaking research by Washington State University wolf scientist Rob Wielgus, published in the Dec. 3 issue of the scientific journal PLOS One, suggests killing wolves can have unexpected results, dissolving previously well-behaved packs and leaving small groups or lone wolves more inclined to kill livestock.

Wielgus said many states are aggressively managing wolves based on the largely untested perception that lethal control reduces depredations. His findings reflect research by other scientists showing increased black bear and cougar mortality results in more depredations.

Examining annual reports from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Department of Agriculture over 25 years, Wielgus’ analysis found that each wolf killed increased the chance of livestock depredation the following year by 5 percent. Not until the mortality rate of wolves exceeds 25 percent would livestock depredations decrease.

His study opens the door to further study and debate about whether we’re doing enough to recover wolves. A recent study I co-authored analyzing the additional good wolf habitat across the United States found that more than 25,000 square miles of suitable habitat remains unoccupied in Washington — more than five times the area currently occupied.

In all, the study identified more than 350,000 square miles of additional habitat for gray wolves in 19 states, offering the potential to nearly double the wolf population in the Lower 48 states to around 10,000 by expanding recovery into suitable areas of the West Coast, Northeast, southern Rocky Mountains and the Grand Canyon area where the first gray wolf in the region in more than 70 years was just confirmed.

But, as we consider expanding wolf recovery to levels that leading scientists deem more sustainable, we must first expand our approach to wolf management.

And, as our knowledge of how human activities impact wildlife continues to evolve, Washington’s wolf-management policies must evolve toward serving not just hunters and ranchers opposed to wolves but the interests of a broader range of taxpaying constituents, who demand that wildlife be managed not as a problem but as a treasured public trust.

Amaroq Weiss is a biologist for the Center for Biological Diversity where her work focuses on recovering wolves across the Northwest, Rockies and California.

 

Group to protest Wisconsin’s wolf hunt at state Capitol   1 comment

From:  The Cap Times

December 04, 2014 8:45 am  • 

GRAY WOLF (copy)

A group of wolf advocates plans to engage in civil disobedience at Wisconsin’s Capitol building next week to protest the state’s wolf management policies.

The Wolf and Wildlife Action Group, a national group of activists, announced Wednesday that its members will protest at 11 a.m. on Dec. 8 on the Capitol steps. They will then move to Gov. Scott Walker’s office.

The group plans to deliver four “violation notices for Wisconsin’s crimes against nature” to the governor, citing the United Nations’ World Charter for Nature.

According to a news release, WWAG will release more details about the alleged violations when they deliver them to the governor.

The group “demands all wolf killing stops now and wolves be returned to full endangered species protection forthwith under the Endangered Species Act.”

Wisconsin’s wolf hunt has been controversial since Walker signed into law the state’s wolf hunting and trapping provisions. By way of that law, Wisconsin is the only state to allow dogs to be used hunting wolves.

The 2014 hunting and trapping season opened Oct. 15 and entered the hound phase on Monday. Dog use is prohibited until the conclusion of the gun deer season.

The state Department of Natural Resources sets a yearly quota for wolf kills; this year’s is 150. The DNR also sets smaller quotas for six management zones throughout the state, closing a zone when the quota is reached.

The season ends on Feb. 28, or when the statewide quota is met. As of Dec. 3, 147 harvests had been reported and only two of the six zones remained open.

Two zones were closed before their zone-specific quotas were met and two others were closed after their quotas were exceeded.

Some opposition to the wolf hunt comes from those opposed to the hunting and killing of any animals, while some comes from those who believe wolves specifically deserve protections.

In 2012, several groups sued the DNR seeking to halt the provision allowing the use of dogs in the hunt. The groups contended that the practice amounted to state-sanctioned animal fighting. That lawsuit failed.

The group coming to Wisconsin, WWAG, has led similar protests in Idaho and Montana.

Its members called for Idaho Republican Gov. Butch Otter’s resignation and spoke with him briefly in May. They delivered a “violation notice” to Montana Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock in October.

Wisconsin wolves were taken off the federal endangered species list in 2011, allowing state officials to determine how best to manage the population.

At the time the bill was signed, the state’s wolf population numbered more than 800. Last winter, Wisconsin had at least 660 wolves.

When Walker signed the bill, he said in a statement that the hunt will help farmers protect their livestock by reducing the wolf population to a “healthy, sustainable level.

The wolf hunt.

The wolf hunt. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A 19th century painting depicting the conclusi...

A 19th century painting depicting the conclusion of a wolf hunt (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

 

 

 

 

Study: Killing wolves doesn’t result in fewer livestock attacks   Leave a comment

From:  UPI

“The only way you’re going to completely eliminate livestock depredations is to get rid of all the wolves,” Rob Wielgus said.
 By Brooks Hays   |   Dec. 4, 2014 at 11:31 AM

PULLMAN, Wash., Dec. 4 (UPI) — The frequent fights that boil up over the protection of wild predators routinely feature the same interested parties — conservationists and animals rights activists one on side, ranchers on the other.

Understandably, ranchers are consistently concerned about their ability to protect their herds — their assets. But now, new research may weaken their bargaining position, as recent scientific evidence suggests killing wolves does not reduce the frequency of livestock attacks.

Researchers at the Washington State University arrived at their findings after analyzing 25 years of lethal control data from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The data on wolf killings in Montana, Wyoming and Idaho showed that killing a single wolf actually increased the chance of livestock attacks the following year.

One dead wolf increased odds of depredations four percent for sheep herds, and five to six percent for cattle. If 20 wolves were shot or trapped the year prior, livestock deaths doubled.

“I had no idea what the results were going to be, positive or negative,” Rob Wielgus, a wildlife biologist at Washington State University, said in a press release. “I said, ‘Let’s take a look at it and see what happened.’ I was surprised that there was a big effect.”

Wielgus, who conducted the research with the help of data analyst Kaylie Peebles, says that killing wolves likely disrupts the social order of the pack. An older mating pair will keep younger, less mature wolves from coupling and starting a family. But should one or both of two mature mating wolves be killed, younger pairs will form. Starting a family limits a wolf’s ability to hunt, and increases the likelihood that a wolf will be forced to seek out easy prey like cattle and sheep.

Wielgus encourages ranchers to use more effective non-lethal strategies like guard dogs, range guards on horseback, flags and spotlights.

“The only way you’re going to completely eliminate livestock depredations is to get rid of all the wolves,” Wielgus said, “and society has told us that that’s not going to happen.”


 

The study was published this week in the journal PLOS ONE:

Effects of Wolf Mortality on Livestock Depredations

  • Robert B. Wielgus,
    Kaylie A. Peebles mail
  • Published: December 03, 2014
  • DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0113505

Abstract

Predator control and sport hunting are often used to reduce predator populations and livestock depredations, – but the efficacy of lethal control has rarely been tested. We assessed the effects of wolf mortality on reducing livestock depredations in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming from 1987–2012 using a 25 year time series. The number of livestock depredated, livestock populations, wolf population estimates, number of breeding pairs, and wolves killed were calculated for the wolf-occupied area of each state for each year. The data were then analyzed using a negative binomial generalized linear model to test for the expected negative relationship between the number of livestock depredated in the current year and the number of wolves controlled the previous year. We found that the number of livestock depredated was positively associated with the number of livestock and the number of breeding pairs. However, we also found that the number of livestock depredated the following year was positively, not negatively, associated with the number of wolves killed the previous year. The odds of livestock depredations increased 4% for sheep and 5–6% for cattle with increased wolf control – up until wolf mortality exceeded the mean intrinsic growth rate of wolves at 25%. Possible reasons for the increased livestock depredations at ≤25% mortality may be compensatory increased breeding pairs and numbers of wolves following increased mortality. After mortality exceeded 25%, the total number of breeding pairs, wolves, and livestock depredations declined. However, mortality rates exceeding 25% are unsustainable over the long term. Lethal control of individual depredating wolves may sometimes necessary to stop depredations in the near-term, but we recommend that non-lethal alternatives also be considered.

Figures

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Table 1. AIC and log-likelihood values for forward selection of main effects and interaction effects models of cattle depredations

doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0113505.t001

In both models all of the main effects and some two way interactions were found to be statistically significant (Table 2). The number of wolves killed in year one was positively related to the number of cattle depredated the following year (rate ratios = 1.05, 1.05 and 1.06,z = 5.67 and 5.66, 4.69, P<0.001) (Figure 1). For each additional wolf killed the estimated mean number of cattle depredated the following year increased by 5 to 6%. The number of breeding pairs was also positively related to the number of cattle depredated (rate ratios = 1.08, 1.09 and 1.08, z = 6.28, 4.87 and 6.04, P = 0.0336 and <0.001) (Figure 2). For each additional breeding pair on the landscape the estimated mean number of cattle depredated the following year increased by 8 to 9%. Breeding pairs were highly correlated with numbers of wolves (Table S2).
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Figure 1. Wolves killed vs cattle depredated.

Number of wolves killed through control methods the previous year versus the number of cattle depredated the following year. The dashed lines show the upper and lower limits of the 95% confidence interval for the best fit line.

doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0113505.g001

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Figure 2. Number of breeding pairs vs cattle depredated.

Number of breeding pairs present on the landscape the previous year versus the number of cattle depredated the following year. The dashed lines show the upper and lower limits of the 95% confidence interval for the best fit line.

doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0113505.g002

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Table 2. Summary of best model for cattle depredated.

doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0113505.t002

There was also one important 2-way negative interaction for the relationship between the increasing numbers of wolves killed and decreasing breeding pairs on livestock depredations (rate ratios = 0.99, z = −5.39, −5.49 and −5.12, P<0.001. In our models, the main effects of wolves killed was increased depredations. But the negative interaction effect in the model shows that depredations ultimately declined with increased wolf kills as number of breeding pairs decreased. These conflicting effects on livestock depredations are represented here as proportion of wolves killed vs. cattle depredations in (Figure 3). Depredations increased with increasing wolf mortality up to about 25% mortality but then depredations declined when mortality exceeded 25%.

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Figure 3. The proportion of wolves killed vs cattle depredated.

Proportion of wolves killed the previous year versus the number of cattle depredated the following year. The dashed lines show the upper and lower limits of the 95% confidence interval for the best fit line.

doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0113505.g003

One model out of 53 (Table 3) was also selected for determining which factors may influence the number of sheep depredated the following year (Table 4). The model was g(y) = exp [−10.499+0.05539(minimum wolf population) +0.03883(wolves killed through control methods) +3.058×10−5(cattle) +2.077×10−4(sheep) – 5.116×10−4(wolves killed*wolf population) – 4.932×10−7(wolves killed*cattle) – 1.159×10−7(wolf population*cattle) – 3.712×10−6(wolves killed*sheep) – 6.827×10−7(wolf population*sheep) – 3.408×10−10(cattle*sheep) +6.532×10-10(wolves killed*wolf population*cattle) +4.819×10−9(wolves killed*wolf population*sheep) +3.682×10−12(wolves killed*cattle*sheep) – 4.336×10−15(wolves killed*wolf population*cattle*sheep)].
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Table 3. AIC and log-likelihood values for forward selection of main effects and interaction effects models of sheep depredations.

doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0113505.t003

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Table 4. Summary of best following year sheep depredated models.

doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0113505.t004

Both of the main effects and one interaction effect were significant in this model. Once again, the number of wolves killed was positively related to the number of sheep depredated the following year (rate ratio = 1.04, z = 2.218, P = 0.026) (Figure 4). For each additional wolf killed the estimated mean number of sheep being depredated the following year increased by 4%. The minimum wolf population was also positively related to the number of sheep depredated the following year (rate ratio = 1.06, z = 3.220, P = 0.001) (Figure 5). For each additional wolf on the landscape the estimated mean number of sheep being depredated the following year increased by 6%. The number of cattle and sheep were found to be positively related to the number of sheep depredated but the coefficient was negligible (rate ratios = 1.00 and 1.00, z = 4.718 and 3.320, P = <0.001 and 0.001) which results in an increase of sheep depredated the following year by 1.00 or less than 1%. However, as with cattle, there was an important 2-way negative interaction. Sheep depredations increased with increasing wolf mortality rate up until about 25%, then depredations began to decline after mortality exceeded 25% (Figure 6).
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Figure 4. Wolves killed vs sheep depredated.

Number of wolves killed through control methods the previous year versus the number of sheep depredated the following year. The dashed lines show the upper and lower limits of the 95% confidence interval for the best fit line.

doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0113505.g004

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Figure 5. Minimum wolf population vs sheep depredated.

Minimum year end wolf population the previous year versus the number of sheep depredated the following year. The dashed lines show the upper and lower limits of the 95% confidence interval for the best fit line.

doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0113505.g005

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Figure 6. Proportion of wolves controlled versus the number of sheep depredated.

Proportions of wolves killed through control methods the previous year versus the number of sheep depredated the following year. The dashed lines show the upper and lower limits of the 95% confidence interval for the best fit line.

doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0113505.g006

Discussion

Our results do not support the “remedial control” hypothesis of predator mortality on livestock depredations the following year. However, lethal control of wolves appears to be related to increased depredations in a larger area the following year. Our results are supported by the findings of Harper et al. (2008) in Minnesota where they found that across the state (large scale) none of their correlations supported the hypothesis that killing a high number of wolves reduced the following year’s depredations. Harper et al also found that trapping and not catching wolves decreased depredations more than no trapping at all, suggesting that a mere increase in human activity at depredation sites reduced further depredations by those wolves in their study area. By contrast, Bjorge and Gunson (1985) found reducing the population from 40 to 3 wolves in 2 years in Alberta (a 10 fold reduction to near extirpation) resulted in a decline of livestock depredations for two years – followed by subsequent recolonization and increased depredations thereafter. Tompa (1983) also found that lethal control prevented conflict for more than a year in some areas of British Columbia. It should be noted that these 2 studies examined wolf control and livestock depredations at a fine scale (grazing allotment or wolf pack territory or management zone). They did not examine wolf control and livestock depredations at a larger scale (wolf occupied areas) as was done by Harper et al. (2008) and us (this study). It appears that wolf control is associated with reduced depredations at the local wolf pack scale but increased depredations at the larger wolf population scale. This appears consistent with Treves et al. (2005) prediction that the removal of carnivores generally only achieves a temporary reduction in livestock depredations locally when immigrants can rapidly fill the vacancies.
There were several different factors that influenced the number of livestock depredated the following year by wolves. In order of importance, based on the values of the rate ratios, these include: the number of wolves removed through control methods, the number of breeding pairs, the minimum wolf population, and the number of livestock on the landscape. Consistent with expectations, each additional breeding pair on the landscape increased the expected mean number of cattle depredated by 8 to 9% and each additional wolf on the landscape increased the expected mean number of sheep depredated by 6%. Cattle were most affected by breeding pairs and sheep by wolves – perhaps because it takes more than one wolf (a pack) to kill a relatively larger cow and only one wolf to kill a smaller sheep. However, contrary to the “remedial control” hypothesis, each additional wolf killed increased the expected mean number of livestock depredated by 5–6% for cattle and 4% for sheep. It appears that lethal wolf control to reduce the number of livestock depredated is associated with increased, not decreased, depredations the following year, on a large scale – at least until wolf mortality exceeds 25%. Why 25%? The observed mean intrinsic growth rate of wolves in Idaho, Wyoming, and Montana is about 25% [21]. Therefore, once anthropogenic mortality exceeds 25%, the numbers of breeding pairs and wolves must decline – resulting in fewer livestock depredations.
Below 25% mortality, lethal control may increase breeding pairs and wolves through social disruption and compensatory, density dependent effects. For example, wolf control efforts occur year round and often peak during grazing season in areas with livestock depredations[22], [23]. However, if control takes place during the breeding season and a member of the breeding pair is removed it may lead to pack instability and increased breeding pairs [24], [10]. Furthermore, loss of a breeder in a pack during or near breeding season can result in dissolution of territorial social groups, smaller pack sizes and compensatory density dependent effects – such as increased per-capita reproduction [11], [25], [26]. Culling of wolves may also cause frequent breeder turnover [11] and related social disruption – which can result in reduced effective prey use (through loss of knowledge of prey sources and ability to subdue prey) which may also result in increased livestock depredations [27], [28]. All of these effects could potentially result in increased livestock depredations.
We would expect to see increased depredations, wolves killed, and breeding pairs as the wolf population grows and recolonizes the area – but our data suggest that lethal control exacerbates these increases. The secondary effects of time, wolf population growth rate, wolf occupied area, and wolf population size on depredations were already subsumed in the primary main effect terms of breeding pairs (cattle) and wolves (sheep), so those secondary effects cannot account for the positive effects of wolf kills on depredations. We do not yet know the exact mechanism of how increased wolf mortality up to ≤25% results in increased livestock depredations, but we do know that increased mortality is associated with compensatory increased breeding pairs, compensatory numbers of wolves, and depredations [24], [10], [27],[28], [11], [26]. Further research is needed to determine the exact causal mechanism(s). Annual mortality in excess of 25% will reduce future depredations, but that mortality rate is unsustainable and cannot be carried out indefinitely if federal relisting of wolves is to be avoided. Furthermore, a 5% (sheep) and 5% (cattle) kill rate of wolves yields the same number of cattle and sheep depredations as a 35% (cattle) and 30% (sheep) kill rate (Figures 3 & 6), but the 30% or 35% rate is unsustainable for wolf population persistence and the 5% rate is not. The worst possible case appears to be a high mortality rate at about 20–25%, since this corresponds to a “standing wave” of the highest livestock depredations. Further research is needed to test if this high level of anthropogenic wolf mortality (25%) is associated with high levels of predation on natural prey such as deer and elk.
Further research is also needed to account for the limitations of our data set. The scale of our analysis was large (wolf occupied areas in each state in each year) and the scale of some other studies were small (wolf packs). Simultaneous, multi-scale analysis (individual wolf packs, wolf management zones, and wolf occupied areas) may yield further insights.
Although lethal control is sometimes a necessary management tool in the near-term, we suggest that managers also consider testing non-lethal methods of wolf control [29] because these methods might not be associated with increased depredations in the long-term.

Supporting Information

Figure_S1.tif1 / 4

Proportion of wolves harvested vs cattle depredated. Proportion of wolves harvested the previous year in each state (Montana, Idaho and Wyoming) versus the number of cattle depredated the following year.

Figure S1.

Proportion of wolves harvested vs cattle depredated. Proportion of wolves harvested the previous year in each state (Montana, Idaho and Wyoming) versus the number of cattle depredated the following year.

doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0113505.s001

(TIF)

Figure S2.

Proportion of wolves harvested vs sheep depredated. Proportion of wolves harvested the previous year in each state (Montana, Idaho and Wyoming) versus the number of sheep depredated the following year.

doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0113505.s002

(TIF)

Table S1.

Data by state, 1987–2012. Data for all variables used in the analysis grouped by state from 1987–2012.

doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0113505.s003

(DOCX)

Table S2.

Pearson correlation matrix. Pearson correlation matrix for independent variables: cattle, sheep, minimum wolf population, wolves harvested and number of breeding pairs.

doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0113505.s004

(DOCX)

Acknowledgments

This analysis and paper benefitted from the insights and comments of Hilary Cooley (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service), and John Pierce, Donny Martorello, Brian Kertsen, Ben Maletzke, and Stephanie Simick (Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife).

Author Contributions

Conceived and designed the experiments: RBW KAP. Performed the experiments: RBW KAP. Analyzed the data: RBW KAP. Contributed reagents/materials/analysis tools: RBW KAP. Wrote the paper: RBW KAP.

References

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Why Killing Wolves Might Not Save Livestock New study fuels debate over how to reduce attacks on cows and sheep.   1 comment

From:  National Geographic News

A photo of wolves killed by wildlife officials after the animals attacked cattle in Montana.

The remains of wolves killed by wildlife officials hang over the side of a truck in Montana in 2004. These animals, which were not part of the Huckleberry Pack, were killed because they attacked cattle.

PHOTOGRAPH BY JOEL SARTORE, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC CREATIVE

In late August, a government sharpshooter in a helicopter hovering above a wooded eastern Washington hillsidekilled the lead female wolf of the Huckleberry Pack. The aim was to end attacks by the wolf pack, which had killed more than two dozen sheep.

But in the long run, a shooting like this could just make matters worse. A new study has found that—paradoxically—killing a wolf can increase the risk that wolves will prey on livestock in the future.

The research, published today in the scientific journal PLOS One, flies in the face of the common idea that the swiftest and surest way to deal with wolves threatening livestock is by shooting the predators. It adds to a growing understanding of how humans influence the complex dynamics driving these pack animals, sometimes with unexpected consequences.

As wolves spread across the West, triggering more encounters with sheep and cattle, and as two states host wolf-hunting seasons, the new research also adds more fuel to an already heated political debate about how to deal with wolves.

“The livestock industry, they’re not going to be happy with this,” said Rob Wielgus, a Washington State University ecologist and the study’s lead author.

Back From the Brink

Shooting wolves is a long-standing practice in the ranching world. It helped lead to the animal’s eradication in the western United States in the 1930s. Since the wolf’s reintroduction in the mid-1990s, government officials and ranchers have frequently reached for a gun to cope with livestock problems—killing more than 2,000 wolves by 2013.

In 2011, wolves were removed from federal protection under the Endangered Species Act in Idaho, Montana, and parts of Washington, Oregon, and Utah. (Wyoming got a similar stamp of approval in 2012, but a federal judge recently overturned that decision.) That has made it easier to shoot wolves—Idaho and Montana now even allow recreational hunting.

But there have never been any large-scale studies of whether killing wolves really helps protect livestock.

Enter Wielgus. He has a track record for turning conventional wisdom on its head when it comes to attempts to control predators. In 2008 he made news with research that found shooting cougars led to more attacks on livestock. When mature adults were killed, Wielgus said, less seasoned adolescents moved in and were more likely to prey on cows and sheep.

After wolves arrived in Washington in 2008, growing to 13 packs by 2013, Wielgus turned his attention to the newest carnivore on the block. He examined 25 years of data on killing of wolves and cases where wolves attacked cattle and sheep in Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming—the first states where wolves were reintroduced.

Gray Wolves

Gray Wolves (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What the Data Say

Wielgus found that when a wolf was killed, the chances of livestock getting killed increased the following year in that state—by 5 to 6 percent for cattle and 4 percent for sheep. With each additional wolf killed, the chance of livestock attacks rose further. The trend didn’t reverse until more than a quarter of the wolves in the state were killed in a single year. Then livestock losses started to decline.

That level of wolf-killing happened several times even while wolves were federally protected, under rules that allowed shooting of wolves that threatened livestock. And it is happening now in Idaho and Montana. Last year, hunters killed 231 wolves in Montana and 356 in Idaho, helping to reduce the population to slightly more than 600 in each state. The Idaho legislature this year created a Wolf Depredation Control Board, a move critics say is aimed at pushing wolf numbers down to just above 150—a cutoff that could trigger renewed protection under the Endangered Species Act.

Wielgus isn’t certain why more livestock die when smaller numbers of wolves are killed. But he suspects it’s tied to changes in pack behavior. Packs are led by a male and female breeding pair. If one or both of those wolves is killed, the pack can break up, giving rise to several breeding pairs—and thus an uptick in the wolf population. Livestock losses decline only when enough wolves are killed to overwhelm their ability to keep up through reproduction.

The theory fits observations made in and around Yellowstone National Park. Wolf packs inside the park—where wolves aren’t shot—are large and complex, with wolves of a variety of ages living together, said Doug Smith, a lead wolf researcher at Yellowstone. Wolf packs elsewhere tend to be just a breeding pair and pups.

For Wielgus, the upshot of his study is that while killing a wolf might sometimes be necessary, as a routine practice it’s counterproductive and unsustainable. Either livestock losses go up or, if enough wolves are killed to reduce livestock deaths, wolf numbers eventually drop so low that wolves wind up back on the endangered species list. If the killing slows to less than 25 percent of the wolf population per year, his study suggests, depredation rates shoot back up.

“It’s a bit of a catch-22,” Wielgus said. “You can reduce them now, but you can only reduce them so far, and when you stop that heavy harvest, now you’re at maximum livestock depredation.”

Is There Another Way?

Reaction to the new study was split down predictable fault lines. Wolf conservationists pointed to it as evidence that shooting wolves to save livestock usually doesn’t make sense. “You have this very archaic paradigm of kill first, ask questions later,” said Suzanne Stone, senior northwest representative for the environmental group Defenders of Wildlife. Overall, people in the livestock industry are “still pretty rigid in their views that the only way to deal with predators is to kill them. And that’s not true. It actually works against them.”

Stone has run a program with sheep growers in one Idaho valley aimed at finding ways for sheep and wolves to coexist. The ranchers there resort to a number of tactics to protect roughly 30,000 sheep: monitoring wolves to avoid grazing the sheep near denning sites, using guard dogs, flashing bright lights to scare off wolves, stringing a wire hung with small strips of fabric around the flock at night, and increasing the number of people herding the animals.

Stone said the program is cheaper than dispatching a gunman in a helicopter. Fewer than 30 sheep have been lost to wolves in seven years, and no wolves have been killed.

Stan Boyd, executive director of the Idaho Wool Growers Association, said his group works with members to help them deter wolves without shooting the animals. But he still sees guns as critical tools, and he says wolf problems have declined recently as the number of Idaho wolves has gone down.

“Wolves get into livestock, we kill the wolves. And that works well,” Boyd said. “The professor can say whatever he wants. We’re not going to just let wolves run wild.”

In Washington state, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which paid for Wielgus’s research, is waiting for him to complete a broader examination of all options for managing wolves, said John Pierce, the agency’s chief wildlife scientist. “In the long run, we definitely would prefer to do nonlethal removal if we can figure out how it works,” Pierce said.

Meanwhile, all eyes are on the Huckleberry Pack. In the aftermath of the shooting of the lead female, will fewer sheep die in wolf attacks—or more?

Wolf puppies to be legally arrowed to death in Montana: How arrows slowly kill   4 comments

From:  Examiner.com

by Cathy Taibbi – Wildlife Conservation Examiner

These wolf puppies are fair game for bullets or arrows - even at this tender age.

These wolf puppies are fair game for bullets or arrows – even at this tender age.

UPDATE – Archery season for wolves in Montana:

This season, hunters are allowed to kill 220 wolves — nearly triple the 2009 quota of 75.

Even if you agree with hunting, do you agree with the legal shooting of pups? This week in Montana, hunters are even allowed to shoot wolf puppies. Yes, puppies. And they can shoot them in the most agonizingly cruel way of all, using bow and arrow. And it’s all ‘legal’.

Worse, Mark Gamblin, spokesperson for Idaho Fish and Game, is already trying to justify bringing wolf-puppy season to his own state next spring:

“OK, I’ll try again. As I noted in my last post – in two (actually three – Lolo, Selway and Middlefork) wolf management zones, the 2011-2012 wolf hunting season extends until June 1 when new born pups will be technically legal to harvest/kill/take by wolf hunters. I think your point is: that is an example of how wolves are NOT managed like lions or bears. Without looking at all other hunting seasons I can’t say with certainty, but I can’t think of a routine hunting season that overlaps the birthing period of a wildlife species. With that said, if you or jon suggest that constitutes a violation of wildlife mangement or other priciples, please explain how. In those wolf management zones, the sesaon was extended to enhance the likelihood that the management prescription to reduce wolf numbers sufficiently to achieve elk population recovery objectives. That certainly is a high priority for the Lolo, Selway and Middlefork wolf management zones. Would a wolf hunter use a wolf tag on a new born pup, IF that hunter had the opportunity? What do you think? I’ll go first – Nope. Again, this is(drum roll)….. a red herring issue of very little consequence that gets some folks lathered up, but has little or no relevance to meaningful considerations for this wildlife management issue.

And finally, the old “what constitutes a meaningful trophy for the Idaho wolf hunter” discussion that you and I have engaged with since 2009.

You have a high level of certainty that you understand the desires, values and criteria for a “trophy” of thousands of Idaho hunters when it comes to ….. a wolf pelt. If you mean to say that hunters will not, cannot value the pelt of a 5 month or older wolf as a trophy or to use for other legitimate purposes – well I have to tell you that you are wrong. The legitimate value of a “trophy” to thousands of individual Idaho hunters cannot be described or catagorized by your personal values or preferences nor by mine of by any fixed set of criteria. It is enough that each hunter is given the choice to harvest/kill/take a wolf during the hunting season that runs from August 30 to March 1 in the majority of the state and until June 1 in the remaining 3 wolf management zones. The hunters who participate in this wolf hunting season will make their own decisions and if legal those decision will be entirely legitimate and ethical within the bounds established by the Idaho governmental electoral process. And yes, absolutely, one important objective of this hunting season is to significantly reduce the Idaho wolf population to achieve a broader balance of public wildlife and personal property benefits than can be achieved with the current Idaho wolf population. Hopefully, we will be able to report success after all of the data are collected and analyzed at the end of this hunting/trapping season. “

Whether you agree with arguments that support hunting for sport or so-called ‘management’ or not, most so-called ‘ethical’ hunters would agree a clean, fast kill is the goal – no matter what species is in the cross-hairs, and only in a ‘sportsmanlike way’ that gives the hunted animal a fair chance of escape.

While we won’t discuss the ethics of hunting per se, I do offer this video to consider – especially for those of strong Christian faith. Whatever your personal take on hunting, what is ‘sportsmanlike’ in arrowing puppies? Is it OK to kill babies using one of the slowest and most painful of hunting methods?

Dying from an archery wound can take – up to two WEEKS, according to Benke, and then only as a result of massive infection.

Does a puppy deserve to die this way? For that matter, does a deer, elk or any animal deserve to be sentenced to a long, agonizing death for the purposes of human ‘sport’?

Since the controversial politically-motivated delisting of endangered grey wolves resulted in open-season on wolves in several US states, including bow-hunting season beginning Sept. 3 in Montana, wolves have intentionally – and legally – been shot and killed – Although the actual statistcs and the numbers reported keep changing.

Bowhunting season is considered legal and is permitted – although perhaps not for much longer now that this video has been released. And yes, unfortunately, certain backwards states are legalizing – even encouraging – the hunting of newborn wolf puppies as ‘trophies’. Even if you think it’s OK to hunt and kill truly helpless baby animals -puppies- for sport, is it OK to torture them first?

For some reason the general public seems to feel that bow-hunting is somehow more noble, more challenging, fair or more humane than hunting with firearms.

In this video a veteranarian describes the actual, prolonged and agonizing death these bow-shot animals actually experience.

Warning – This is graphic video. It was taken over the shoulder of a hunter – documenting his legal kill using a bow and arrow.

How many feel this kind of death is justifiable in the pursuit of ‘pleasure’? And what about for baby animals?

Should bow hunting remain legal?

For more information on open-season on wolves and the legal killing of puppies, click here.

For additional insights into why people seem to love to hunt, please see this recent study.

Please visit the excellent blog Howling For Justice for timely updates on the wolf massacre.

 

FWP approves proposal for bobcat fur farm in Fergus County   Leave a comment

From:  3KRTV.com

CENTRAL MONTANA

Oct 25, 2014 9:46 AM by David Sherman

HELENA — Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks has approved and issued a license to a commercial fur farm southwest of Roy, despite receiving thousands of public comments against the proposed project.

Gary Bertellotti, FWP Region 4 supervisor, said in a press release, “Based on the analysis in the environmental assessment, applicable laws, regulations and policies, FWP has determined that this action will not have a significant effect on the human or physical environment.”

The license will allow the Schultz Fur Farm to possess captive-raised bobcats, lawfully obtained from a licensed dealer, for propagation and for sale of the pelts in the commercial fur industry.

FWP received more than 21,00 total comments from people across the nation and internationally, including multiple comments from the same people, representing 21,182 individual people and two groups, and one petition from a group called “Cats Are Not Crops.”

Of the total comments received, 20 comments supported the proposal, and the remaining opposed the proposal based on principle and objection to fur farms and the fur industry.

The FWP said that there was “no substantive opposition” to the laws or regulations in Montana that reflect opposition to the permit.

Among the public comments and FWP responses:

Comments: Favor the proposal related to economic development in the area.
FWP response: This is a business and the potential for local tax revenue and direct revenue to other businesses are possible but are not under the FWP control.

Comment: Fur farms are inhumane and cause harm to native animals that should be free (high% of comments received had some form of reference to this):
FWP Response: Fur farms are a legal business and are controlled and monitored under Montana code 87-4-1007 (Inspection) to assure licensed operators comply with the law.

Comment: The space identified in the EA that each animal will have is less that the 42 square feet the AZA recommends.
FWP Response: Fur farms are not required to meet AZA criteria.

Comment: Bobcats are wild animals and should be respected as wild animals.
FWP Response: These bobcats are captive-bred and raised and are not, under Montana law, wild or wildlife, but domestically raised, considered private property, and can be used for the purpose identified as furbearer and industry standards and rules.

Comment: These animals will be inhumanly killed in methods contrary to the AVMA standards.
FWP Response: The methods used to dispatch these animals are up to the producer but there are industry standards that are recognized and used.

Comment: The environmental impacts due to waste and chemical releases from fur farms is well-documented and there will be impacts to the surrounding land, vegetation, wildlife and environment therefore this should not be permitted.

FWP Response: The fur farm owners and operator must comply with state standards set out by DEQ and EPA for discharge of any materials that maybe hazardous to the environment.

Comment: Very specific theme and expressed philosophy that fur farms are not acceptable and killing animals for fur is barbaric and no longer acceptable in today’s world.
FWP Response: Fur farms are a recognized legitimate and licensed business and Montana.

Comment: Bobcats from this can be sold in the pet trade and kittens will grow up and be dangerous to people because they are still wild animals.
FWP Response: Many municipalities, counties and towns prohibit owning them as set by local ordinances. There is no state law that prohibits the fur farm from selling to individuals.

In the final environmental assessment, the FWP said:

Although minor impacts were identified, no potentially significant impacts to the human or physical environment were identified in the EA or through public comment. The EA and this decision notice with all applicable mitigation measures for licensing will serve as the final EA document.

After thorough review of the application, it is determined that there are no significant findings of potential environmental impacts or credible legal challenge to the laws and regulations regulating fur farms.

Click here to read the complete FWP document (PDF).

 

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