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Predator Management by State Wildlife Agency Biologists Questioned

The Wildlife News, George Wuerthner,  June 28, 2013  (posted 06/30/13)

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I recently had encounters with three state wildlife agency biologists. All of them were quite open with their criticisms of their agencies predator policies.  I can’t reveal their names and I will change a few details to hide their identities.

The first biologist told me there was no reason to kill predators. He said it only creates greater social chaos which in turn leads to more unnecessary killing.  He told me that increasing the kill of predators by hunters—whether cougars or wolves—seldom reduced conflicts. If it’s good habitat, the vacuum created by killing a cougar or a wolf pack will soon be filled by immigrants. So in the end livestock operators have to learn to discourage predation by practicing good animal husbandry.  Predator killing just doesn’t work.

Another reason predator control fails is that most hunters pursue animals that live on the larger blocks of public land, while most of the conflicts occur on the fringes of towns or on private ranch lands. In other words, the majority of cougars and wolves killed by hunters are animals that are not causing any conflicts.

He went on to say that hunting predators had no benefits. Period.

The second biologist told me that wolves were not harming elk and deer herds. Rather elk and deer populations have increased in the state since wolves were introduced. He pointed out that wolves were also not destroying the livestock industry though he did acknowledge that individual ranchers might be challenged by wolf depredations.

He also reiterated that hunting predators was indiscriminate. The specific predator killing a rancher’s livestock is often not the animal killed by hunters so arguing that killing predators will reduce conflicts is at best a half truth.

The third biologist told me that his agency missed the boat by not responding to the misinformation from the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and Toby Bridges of Lobo Watch. By not countering the distortions put forth by these organizations, fabrications and half-truths were widely distributed by the media.

He also acknowledged that wolves could not increase indefinitely. They expand their range into new territories but their densities are socially maintained.  In other words, you will not get more and more wolves living in the same basic area.  He said people have to learn to live with natural processes which include predation.

What these encounters demonstrate to me is that many biologists working for these state agencies are sympathetic to predator supporters.  They are muzzled by their agencies and unable to speak the truth. Still it is refreshing to know that supporters of predators have some friends within state agencies—biologists who are hoping that legal attempts to stop unnecessary and indiscriminate hunting and trapping will succeed.

This also means that citizens and those who support predators have to create the political space where these biologists can feel free to speak their minds. Keep up the pressure, there are some in these state wildlife agencies who know the score, and are as devoted to wildlife as anyone.

This article appeared in The Wildlife News.

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Please give the wolves a voice.
Submit your comments to the Fish and Wildlife Service today!


Please give the wolves a voice-write a letter today!

Two proposed rules affecting Mexican gray wolves and all gray wolves were published in the Federal Register on June 13, 2013.


Public comments will be through 11:59 p.m. on September 11, 2013. USFWS guidance on how to submit comments is provided here.

Points to include:

While giving Mexican wolves their own ESA listing is overdue, delisting gray wolves thoughout the lower 48 is premature and unsupported by science. The very scientists whose research is referenced in the draft rule to remove the gray wolves' protections have stated that the science does not support the delisting.

A change that allows new Mexican wolves to be released directly into New Mexico instead of limiting new releases to Arizona is also long overdue.This will remove obstacles to getting new wolves and healthier genetics in the wild, where they are desperately needed.

Wolves don’t read maps. Mexican gray wolves should have the freedom to roam and boundaries on their movements should be eliminated. 

The Fish and Wildlife Service should complete the Mexican gray wolf Recovery Plan; without a valid recovery plan, the agency is making important decisions without a road map

The Fish and Wildlife Service should give critically endangered Mexican wolves greater protections, including full endangered species protections, rather than extending the zone in which they can be killed or removed over livestock.

Delisting gray wolves throughout the U.S. is counter to protecting Mexican wolves. Fewer than 80 Mexican gray wolves exist in the wild. New populations of these wolves are desperately needed for them to thrive. But the draft plan would leave gray wolves unprotected in places where this endangered subspecies could and should live. This will make protection of Mexican gray wolves much more difficult should they expand into Utah or Colorado and make it unlikely that any wolves will be able to naturally reestablish a presence in the Southern Rockies, a region with excellent suitable habitat where wolves were once found.

Wolves are a benefit to the West and are essential to restoring the balance of nature.

Polling showed 77% of Arizona voters and 69% of New Mexico voters support the Mexican wolf reintroduction.

Wildlife biologists believe that Mexican wolves will improve the overall health of the Southwest and its rivers and streams – just as the return of gray wolves to Yellowstone has helped restore balance to its lands and waters.

Wolves generate economic benefits - a University of Montana study found that visitors who come to see wolves in Yellowstone contribute roughly $35.5 million annually to the regional economy.

To submit comments to the US Fish and Wildlife Service, go to http://www.regulations.gov. In the Search box, enter FWS–HQ–ES–2013–0073, which is the docket number for this rulemaking.
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Photo credit: Sterke Baksm