WOLVES AND HUNTING
By T. R. Mader, Research Director
Abundant Wildlife Society of North America
I'm convinced, based on several years of wolf research, hunters will bear the brunt of wolf recovery/protection regardless of location.
There is no language written in any wolf recovery plan to protect the hunter's privilege to hunt. Wolves are well known to cause wild game population declines which are so drastic hunting is either eliminated or severely curtailed. And there is no provision for recovery of wild game populations for the purposes of hunting. It simply will not be allowed.
Example: A few years ago, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife (USFWS) and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) agreed the state should take over the responsibility of wolf management. The DNR felt wolves were impacting their deer populations and wanted to open a short trapping season on the wolf.
The environmentalists sued and won. The USFWS could not give wolf management back to Minnesota in spite of a desire to do so.
The problem with wolf recovery is that most people, especially hunters, have not looked "beyond press releases and into the heart of the wolf issue."
It must be stated clearly that the wolf is the best tool for shutting down hunting. The anti-hunters know this. Most hunters don't. Thus, wolf recovery is not opposed by the people who will be impacted most.
In order to understand the impacts wolves have on hunting, let's look at some biological factors of the wolf and compare some hunting facts.
The wolf is an efficient predator of wild game and domestic livestock. Due to its ability as a predator, the wolf was removed from areas of the U.S. where man settled. There is no such thing as peaceful coexistence between man and wolf - one has to give to the other since both prey/hunt the same wildlife/ungulate populations.
Did the removal of the wolf cause it to become endangered? No, there are 40,000 to 60,000 wolves on the North American continent. The animal is doing quite well. During the years of wolf control, the wolf's territory was eliminated throughout most of the lower 48 states. That factor is the reason the wolf is on the Endangered Species Act (ESA).
A wolf requires five to ten pounds of meat per day for survival, thus the wolf requires a considerable amount of meat in one year - nearly a ton of meat per year per wolf. A wolf is capable of consuming great quantities of meat, up to one fifth of its body weight, at one time. Thus, a wolf does not have to kill each day to survive.
Wolves hunt year around - 365 days a year. Wolf predation is not limited to two weeks, one month or whatever a hunting season length may be, it is year around.
Wolves are opportunistic hunters, meaning they kill what is available and convenient. For years, hunters have been fed the line, "Wolves kill only the weak, sick and old." Worse yet, hunters have believed it.
It is true, wolves do kill old animals, but so do hunters. Those are the big bulls or bucks prized by many who hunt. In fact, biological studies have shown wolves kill older male animals more than any other adult member of a wild game population.
Regarding sick animals, there are not many sick wild animals today. Hunters and trappers are directly responsible for healthy wild game herds today.
In the cyclic "balance of nature" of years past (no hunting by man), ungulate populations would thrive until they overgrazed their habitat and starved. This malnutrition made ungulate populations susceptible to disease. Consequently, disease was more common. Lewis and Clark wrote of such herds. (The other major factor contributing to the decline in wildlife populations was predation.)
Hunting controls this cycle so that herds are kept at proper levels for habitat, preventing malnutrition and susceptibility to disease. Hunting dollars went to habitat improvement and biological studies which, in turn, help maintain healthier herds of ungulates.
Even agriculture plays a part in the dispersal of salt and other minerals to domestic livestock. Wild animals access these nutrients as well. Thus, disease is not as rampant as when nature regulates it naturally. It is also interesting to note that where disease is a problem today, such as Yellowstone National Park, hunting is not allowed.
Trapping completes the cycle of game management by controlling the predator. The predator is to wildlife what weeds are to a garden. They must be controlled or they will take over. Additionally, predators are disease carriers. Some people are aware predators carry rabies since reports of rabid animals or some person being bitten by a rabid animal are often in the news, but few realize predators also carry other deadly diseases, i.e. raccoons carry a deadly fowl cholera. And finally, trapping benefits the predator by keeping their numbers in check. This keeps the population healthy. If predators do overpopulate, they become more susceptible to rabies, mange and other diseases.
Wolves do not eat sick animals unless forced to do so. We have found this true in many cases.
Example: A Conservation Officer for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) found a moose with brain worm. Brain worm completely destroys an animal's instinctive and natural behavior. This moose had wandered out on a frozen lake in winter and was slowly starving to death. Wolves came by, checked the moose out and went their way. Tracks in the snow verified it. They did not kill it even though it would have been extremely easy to do so.
Wolves do kill the weak. Weak animals are not sick animals, they are simply the "less strong" of the herd. Wolves target these animals - the young and pregnant - due to their inability to escape. This is an important factor in limiting wildlife population numbers. Wolves prey directly on the recruitment and reproductive segments of ungulate populations.
While doing research in British Colombia, a wolf biologist from the British Colombia Ministry of Environment took the time to show me how wolves could impact hunting so severely. Here's his example.
In this particular example he used a number of 300 females in a herd of elk. In his region, wolf predation is often 90% on the young (100% mortality rates due to predation are common in the north). If 300 females gave birth in an area of wolves, the approximate loss would be about 270 young calves killed during the summer months, leaving 30 yearlings to serve as replacements. A regular die-off rate on such a herd is about 10%. So the 30 yearlings would balance out the regular mortality rate of the female segment of the herd.
But overall there is a decline in the elk herd due to the fact that the 30 yearlings are usually sexually split in half (15 females and 15 males), thus the reproductive segment of the herd declines although the numbers appear to balance out. Without some form of wolf control, the rate of decline will increase within a few years.
There were approximately 100 males in this herd of elk. Figuring the regular mortality rate and compensating with the surviving young leaves 5 animals (males only) that could be harvested by man.
Now if this herd of elk were in an area of no wolves, there would be approximately 60 - 70% successful reproduction (calves making it to yearlings) or 200 young. Half of those surviving young would be male (100 animals). After figuring a 10% mortality rate, 90 older animals could be harvested without impact to the overall herd numbers. In fact, the herd would increase due to additional numbers of the reproductive segment (females) of the herd.
Now you have some insight of the impacts wolves can have on hunting.
In spite of the negative publicity generated by the anti-hunting, anti-trapping movements, hunting and trapping are some of the best wildlife management tools.
Hunters' harvest can be limited through numbers of licenses issued, bag limits, length of seasons, and specification of sex of the animal harvested. Thus, only the surplus of an ungulate population is generally hunted. If the need arises that an ungulate population needs reduction, it is easily accomplished by allowing an "any sex" hunt and increasing license numbers. Additionally, hunters will pay for the opportunity to hunt which in turn pays for wildlife management.
Wolves do none of the above. They simply kill to survive and for the sake of killing. Studies have shown that ungulate populations cannot withstand hunting by man and uncontrolled predation by wolves for any length of time. One has to give to the other. In this day and age, the wolf will be the winner, the hunter the loser.
A point which should be stressed is "wolves kill for the sake of killing," not just to survive. Many are convinced wolves kill only what they need to eat. That simply isn't true.
Remember the moose with brain worm the wolves didn't eat? In the same area, the same winter and only a couple of months later, the same Conservation Officer followed two wolves after a spring snow storm and found the wolves had killed 21 deer. Only two were partially eaten.
The snow gave the wolves the advantage. These deer were autopsied and many were found to be pregnant. The total number of deer killed in 2 days by these 2 wolves was 36.
Such incidents of surplus killing are common. For example, Canadian biologists came upon an area where a pack of wolves have killed 34 caribou calves in one area. Another example came from Alaska. In the Wrangell Mountains, a pack of five wolves came upon 20 Dall rams crossing a snow-covered plateau. All 20 rams were killed by the wolves. Only six were partially eaten by the wolves.
Dr. Charles E. Kay, PH.D. has lectured on the impacts of wolf recovery. To illustrate the impacts of wolves on hunting, he did a comparison of moose populations in British Colombia versus Sweden and Finland. Both areas have a comparable amount of moose habitat.
Dr. Kay stated, "During the 1980s in Sweden and Finland, the pre-calf or the wintering population of moose was approximately 400,000 animals and was increasing. While in British Colombia, it was 240,000 animals and decreasing.
"In British Colombia where they have a population of 240,000 animals and after a calving season they killed only 12,000 animals which is a 5% off take. In Sweden and Finland, on the other hand, they have 400,000 moose and guess how many they killed in the fall? They killed 240,000 moose in the fall which is a 57% off take rate.
"Now the two main differences, I don't want to imply that there's not vegetation difference and other things, but the two main differences is that British Colombia has somewhere between 5,000 and 6,000 wolves, all sorts of bears, grizzly bears and black bears which are also important predators, and mountain lions. Sweden and Finland have none of the above."
Veteran wolf biologist, John Gunson, Alberta Ministry of Environment, summed it up when he said, "Really, there isn't any room for harvest by man if you have a healthy wolf population."
Hunters, please understand the impacts of wolf recovery on hunting and the role wolf recovery plays in the anti-hunters' agenda. Natural predation, especially wolf predation, can replace your privilege to hunt.
Copyright 1991 - Permission granted copy this article in its entirety with proper credit given to the source.
T. R. Mader is Research Director for Abundant Wildlife Society of North America (AWS), a private wildlife research organization dedicated to the preservation of the Great North American Traditions of Hunting, Fishing and Trapping.