Sunday, September 21, 2008

Wolf population update

If you read the mainstream media or listen to any politicians in the western states, you probably have a sense that the wolf population is skyrocketing with no possible end in sight. Those of us who follow the wolf issue know that the wolf population peaked in Yellowstone National Park three years ago and will peak in Idaho and Montana as well. My comments to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and to the Idaho Fish and Game were on this issue. Specifically, we need to allow the wolf population to reach its full potential to achieve the full ecosystem value from the wolves and to enable dispersion to other areas (Oregon, Washington, Nevada, Utah, and Colorado).

Even though the population growth in Idaho slowed to 8% last year, the media and politicians have still used the 24% growth number from pervious years. Another favorite ploy they use to mislead the residents of Idaho is to talk about Idaho wolves, but use the population numbers from all states.  I have seen this tactic used repetitively on the local news and in the local paper.

This week the Fish and Wildlife Service released their mid-year estimate which indicates a decline in the wolf population from last year. Of course, one data point does not make a trend. In this case there are two data points, last years slower rate and this year's declining rate. It will be another year or two before we know for sure. A population can realize temporary setbacks a well. This could be one of those. A few years ago, Yellowstone National Park had a significant decline as there was an outbreak of Parvo virus killing many pups. Due to high adult mortality, a large number of pups are required to keep the population stable. Parvo virus can have a significant impact on the population numbers. Another factor is that so far this year the Wildlife Services have killed a record number of wolves at a record cost to taxpayers (don't get me started on that issue!).

Whether this is the year that the population stabilizes or it happens in two more years, it will happen. The wolves will be regulated by their prey, which is predominantly elk. The elk lived for 65 years in Idaho without wolf predators. Now that wolves are here, the elk are getting smarter and changing their behavior. Also, most of the old, sick, and dying elk have been cleaned up by the wolves. This is one of many positive impacts wolves have on elk health. The result is that Idaho will likely go through a transition similar to Yellowstone, the wolf population will peak and then settle down to 10-20% below that peak.

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April said...

wow a logical and positive report on wolves from someone in Idaho---you're my hero!!!

Anonymous said...

well yes what you say is logical but the question is how much is the peak of the population. is it 800 or is it 2000. if the population drops 10 to 20 percent from the peak that is still an immaculate number. i'm an avid hunter and believe me it hasnt helped shit with the elk. most of what the wolves kill is for the sport of it. they hardly eat all the meat of the elk. Go watch a kill of a wolf and then you tell me how much that is helping the environment. your a damn tree hugger!!!

wolf21m said...

Anonymous, why yes I am a damn treehugger. You say that like it is a bad thing.

The peak population doesn't matter to me whether it is 800 or 2000 or 10,000. The important part is that we reach it. Only then will equilibrium be achieved causing a stable environment with the elk and other ecosystem benefits. I disagree with your point that it has not helped the elk. It has caused the elk to move, change their behavior, become more vigilant, and I expect it has been quite successful in limiting disease. The problem is the fish and game believe that elk population health is measured by numbers and not the limitation of disease and impact on other creatures.

I also disagree that wolves kill for the sport of it. I have watched many elk kills. If allowed to, the wolves will return to the carcass day after day for more than a week. Other species also benefit from the carcass until there is nothing left.

If you look into the scientific studies you will find that species diversity benefit tremendously from the presence of top predators. In Yellowstone for example, the return of wolves moves the elk out of the valleys, the willows sprouts along the river recovered, beaver moves back in, creating more trout habitat. The elk is not the ecosystem, they are only a single player. The top predator is the most important species in the ecosystem for overall health. That is why they are referred to as the keystone predator.

Thanks for stopping by.

Anonymous said...

I suggest you include perspectives from those who have true wolf experience rather than using a pre-packaged argument from lobbyist groups opposed to man lead game management.

Man has invaded country that was once wolf territory. I don't dispute that. However we do not co-exist in a positive manner. Wolves not only kills for food nor do they prey on the weak and diseased. A bull elk is very weakened after the rut, during winter he does not have antlers to defend himself. Calves, fawns, laden cows, and does, each are very easy prey for a wolf. Frank Glaser, one of Alaskas' most respected outdoorsmen and noted wolf expert details a wolf's savagery and killing practices in his notes over a 40+ year span. During this time he was a trapper, guide, and wolf hunter among many other things. His experience and knowledge were called upon by the federal government on numerous occassions. While he admired the wolf he also understood it must be managed to co-exist with man.

Imagine a scenario where the wolves impact on the Idaho economy forces drastic changes to wildlife management in many areas not directly related to the wolf. I have personally experienced a steady decline in numbers of animals seen at any time of the year over the past several years. I must assume that wolves are impacting game behaviour and quite possibly populations. I spent significantly less money on hunting this year as compared to say five years ago. I plan to spend less or to even take my hunting dollars elsewhere next year. If hunting and tourism are dramatically affected by wolves we will see a very significant change in the economy of many cities and even the state. I can imagine taxation, land use fees, higher license fees, new permits, etc.. I think you can get the picture I am trying to paint.

What then will everyone be saying of wolf population balancing etc?

We had wolves in Idaho before the introduction of the much larger and more aggressive Canadian Timber.

At any rate, I foresee a very bleak future for Idaho communities and Idaho in general due to the impact of the wolf. I Imagine I will be hunting Utah and Nevada in the future.

I do not feel the need to berate you or blast your for your feelings I simply wish to express my feeling that people need to look at the impact from both sides. Do I wish to kill off all the wolves? No, that would be a terrible shame. Do I think they need to be managed to co-exist with Hunters and Land Owners in a much more positive fashion? Absolutely.

As for logical and positive, I would have to say that I disagree simply because it only addresses one side of the issue.

Anonymous said...

There is one point that conservationists seem to over look. arn't people a top preditor as well. where do we fit into this picture. we harvest thousands of animals a year, and feed our families with the meat, just like the wolves do. the carceses we creat help the scavengers and lower preditors just like the wolves. if more animals need to be harvisted and the polulation reduced why not let humans do the job. I know I prefer organic, free range, growth hormone free, intibiotic free elk meat to feedlot beef any day.

Anonymous said...

Take this from a Conservative Conservationist who happens to live in the most populous wolf state in the lower 48...Minnesocold. Do wolves have an effect on the environment and its prey?...yes, and should they be hunted when their target population levels hit target levels?...yes.

They have both positive and negative effects on their environment. Wolves tend to go after the weak, old, young. Man tends to go after the biggest baddest elk / muley / whitetails out there. Negatively speaking wolves love big stupid slow moving sheep, sometimes cattle, and fat liberals. Problem wolves are shot with good merit and $'s are usually paid to ranchers.

We have over 3000 some odd wolves in Minnesocold and I still seem to fill my whitetail tag every year and on public land at that. Stop blaming the wolves and become a better hunter. And by the way you haven't heard anything yet until you've heard a wolf howl, when in the woods on your stand.

Minnesota and other border states, Wisconsin and Michigan have seen healthy increases in wolf populations. Minnesota has tried to get the wolf delisted to allow hunting. The problem is those liberal judges don't like hunters or the law for that matter thus wolves are still federally listed. THE TARGET LIMIT OF WOLVES IN MINNESOTA HAVE BEEN AROUND SINCE THE 1980'S, and they still are federally listed...thus no hunting. I feel for those people in the western states. I believe most people in my opinion like the wolves back in the ecosystem and should be managed. However, as with every problem issue in America, I smell the stench from the bench. Idaho, Wyoming, Montana, get ready to start hunting / managing wolves in say 2050…..if you’re lucky ;)

Anonymous said...

To Anonymous,
Have you never watched animal planet or any discovery channels? Wolves(and any other carnivorous animals for that matter) always prey on the diseased, old, or injured animals!! They do this because it is easy for them and they do not have to waste a lot of energy. And as I said before wolves are not the only ones that do that. Lions, alligators, and any other animals that have to hunt for their food.

Rod said...

Wow! watching a TV show can make me an expert on animal behavior?

I've been trying to find solid information about wolf dispersion throughout the Western States and it's difficult to find.

I seem to recall that those trying to introduce the wolf only wanted to keep the wolf in Yellowstone as much as possible, but there have been wolves in Utah as early as 2002.

I also recall that the Canadian, or Timber wolf was introduced into yellowstone, but most articles I read decribe them as Gray wolves when discussing dispersion to other states.

The Canadian/Timber wolf is larger and more aggresive. I'm not sure that a wolf that was not originally here prior to 1930s will create a true balanced ecosystem. The Gray wolf is the species originally here.

Too many details and facts are changed or left out to create so much confusion I feel it's difficult for anyone to truly understand what's going on.

Personally, It's nice wolves are in Yellowstone, but I do not feel that wolves, especially canadian wolves belong in our backyard. I am all for management and conservationism regarding the issue. The only way I see we could take a stance of "let wolves be wolves" is if we took the human element out of the picture. Maybe that is the point. I wonder if the argument in the future will be more about restricting hunting and gun rights.

wolf21m said...

Rob, Thanks for stopping by and taking the time to comment. You make some interesting points in comments. I feel the need to respond to a few of them. 1) Canadian Wolves - I welcome the reference to any scientific literature, or any evidence what-so-ever that Canadian wolves are not Gray wolves. You are simply propagating a myth that the anti-wolf folks use to complicate the discussion. 2) wolves in Utah - yes there have been wolves in Utah. The first one, even though protected by the endangered species act was immediate crated up and sent back to Yellowstone. If you read the reintroduction plan and the environmental impact statement, the intent was never to keep them in Yellowstone. That's why they were also introduced into Idaho. The expectation is that they will disperse to Washington, Oregon, Nevada, Colorado, etc.

Anonymous said...

Dude you dont know what your talking about the wolves are growing stronger every day and you tree huggers arent doing anything about it. you just want the elk and deer numbers to get so low that it is going to be harder for hunters to get tags. and some people depend on that elk or deer kill to survive and feed their family. but the wolves are lowering the elk population and the wolves are getting higher and pretty soon there arent going to be any elk left. and people are going to fucking starve. so think about it when you go to a meeting to keep wolves endangered your making fucking little kids starve you greedy rich son of a bitch!

And my name is Walter Sitar and I think we should hunt wolves and save the people who need the food and everyone else i know agrees with me.

Anonymous said...

It has become painfully obvious that wolves are a problem in Idaho. I don't like that I have to pack heat every where I go. I've seen wolves in the Sun Valley and Island Park areas. It's hard to walk 100 yards in Island Park and find wolf sign. I know I'll buy a wolf tag.

Anonymous said...

It has become painfully obvious that wolves are a problem in Idaho. I don't like that I have to pack heat every where I go. I've seen wolves in the Sun Valley and Island Park areas. It's hard to walk 100 yards in Island Park and not find wolf sign. I know I'll buy a wolf tag.

Anonymous said...

I just read an article in my local newspaper about how Idaho fish and game biologists are concerned about declining numbers of Idaho elk herds. They attributed it to just about everything but wolves. Mostly on the severe winters (brought on by man made global warming no doubt). Now IDF&G has to have a big meeting in Boise to decide what to do. The last thing the local biologist mentioned in the article was that the quickest way to help slow the herd declines was to limit hunting. Rob says that the wolf population in Idaho last year GREW at a tiny 8% rate last year (regardless of the severe winter). Hmmm, I'm sure Rob would consider me an ignorant hillbilly redneck but declining herd numbers and increasing pack numbers should make an HONEST person think a little. From Rob's article one would assume that if and when Idaho wolf populations level off, whatever the deer and elk populations decline to would be the new ideal number to gauge healthy herd numbers. Of course if hunting seasons need to be sharply curtailed, that would be fine. Just don't make wolves legal to hunt. Right? I have a question for Rob though. Once the wolves have killed all the old and sick deer and elk, whatever will they eat?

wolf21m said...

When the wolves have depleted the easy prey (sick and old), they will have less food availability, which will effect their reproductive rate, and the population will decrease. No matter what the hype says it is rare for a wolf pack to successfully take a healthy elk. If it was easy for wolves to kill healthy elk, the elk population would have been extinct 20,000 years ago when wolves and elk lived in equilibrium without humans.

Take a look at Yellowstone National Park. The wolf population grew and grew then leveled off and declined. Through a number of factors it has remained 20% or more below its highs. Check the data on wolves and moose on Isle Royale. Its the same story everywhere that humans don't muck it up.

This is a common model which has been observed in many species and in wolves in particular. If you limit the population prior to reaching the carrying capacity, then you will always have growth, because you will always have an excess of sick and old prey individuals. If you let it naturally reach capacity, then you don't have to manage the population, it manages it itself. The prey species also gets healthier.

Now for the controversial part. Wolves do kill a lot of calves. This is where the issue will be with respect to elk populations. Can the elk populations survive the double onslaught of wolves taking slow calves and old individuals, while hunters take the strong and healthy. I am not anti-hunting, but the hunters are evolutionary selecting for slower, smaller, and weaker elk by taking the biggest and strongest. Wolves are the only positive selection influence the elk have.

An equilibrium will be achieved, but it might not equal the pre-determined herd size that some Fish and Game financial analyst has on their income spreadsheet.

Anonymous said...

"I am not anti hunting". You mean as long as the wolves, bears, cats and cyotes are doing the hunting, right? Most hunters are NOT trophy hunting especially when it comes to elk. It's the other smart people like you at fish and game that allow mainly bulls to be taken. Presumably because they have some intelligent data guiding them. It seems to me that the wolves will take the weak first. That would be the calves and the infirm. Then the next to go would be the cows and the strong bulls last. Basically exactly the opposite of what fish and game expects from human hunters. When there is 3 feet of snow on the ground that the wolves run on top of and the elk break through, any elk can be taken. Wolves are intelligent animals but I assure you that they don't consider future generations of elk when they are considering which one to kill. Do you expect ranchers to suck up the losses of their livestock to wolves. You do know what wolves will do to your dog when given 1/10 a chance? It seems clear that you have no problem closing elk hunting down for people if that is what is needed to keep numbers up once wolves have reached a saturation point. Better yet maybe all people should just stay in the city and not go out in the wild and "muck" it up.

Alex said...

I suppose tha the whole fault its from our ancestors. They were the ones hunting wolves and their preys without equilibrium. I hope I'm not offending nowdays hunters, 'cause right now, I beleive they have balance, but our ancestors, by reducing the wolves population they forced them to attack more animals and thats how their preys, like elks, began to decrease, probably causing that nowday's equilibrium won't work that much because there re not enough animals. Sorry, I'm not really good expressing myself but I hope you did understand. Alexander.

Unknown said...

I find it interesting that those who are for wolf hunting use a lot of hypotheticals and other fictions: "You do know what wolves will do to your dog when given 1/10 a chance?" "What happens when they run out of sick, older elk to eat?"
I always hear this talk about how people who are against wolf hunting are these nature-worshiping, city-dwelling idealists, who use fantasy and junk-science to support their cause. Seems to me that it's exactly the opposite.
I chalk it up to the sense of entitlement people have, mixed with our need to dominant and control nature. We may be at the top of the food chain, but with that comes enormous responsibility. Learning how to live within a balanced natural environment will help us in the long run.
If what people are saying is true, wolves would have wiped out all of the elk thousands of years ago. If we have a little patience and let populations adjust naturally, then the entire ecosystem will thrive (humans included).
Here's a link on a concept known as Trophic Cascade. It links the disappearance of a top line predator (the wolf or cougar), with the degradation of the forest and the loss of species.

Anonymous said...

The wolves we have in our area are beautiful. We are so fortunate to be able to see them, circling the bus stop just before the kids head off to school. Remember kids, a wolf will never, never, never eat you unless it is really, really, really hungry, and maybe not even then. My great concern for these fine animals becomes more intense as they near a crisis food shortage. As our area is managed for elk hunting at a population of around 3500 head, a recent count showed around 500 head and declining. It is imperative that we find alternative food sources to keep our blossoming number of wolf packs thriving. Several of our neighbors have donated pets but it seems that this hasn't appeased the growing hunger. There have been times where we have considered sending the kids out with porkchop necklaces, although we do have some minor safety reservations. Perhaps someone would be able to respond with helpful guidelines to address this. It has become painfully evident that there is an urgent need for us to set up meat feeding stations. In order for this to remain cost effective we should use the feed bins that had previously been used to get the elk and deer through a hard winter, as they are no longer using them. Another idea in closing, would be, that as there are many who share my excitement in the wolves' prosperity, perhaps it is this very crossection of the population who would not only perform the necessary duties at these meat feeding stations but would also donate funds in order to have such an opportunity up close and personal.