LIVING WITH WOLVES – What to expect next

Wood engraving by Paul Gustave Dore- 1870

Yesterday’s Washington State Fish and Wildlife Commission Hearing on Implementation of the 2012 Wolf Plan lasted 5 hours.  The packed hearing was streamed live from Olympia over the web.   Vociferous public criticism of the WDFW decision to remove the Wedge Pack was evidence that the decision left a bitter taste in the mouths of wolf enthusiasts and animal rights activists all across the country.   One Commissioner even cried real tears as he described his sorrow over the death of the Wedge wolves and reassured the public of his unwavering commitment to establishing the species throughout Washington State.

Department game managers spent the first half of the meeting detailing the intricacies of the state’s wolf plan and defending their actions.  The public comment session was disheartening to say the least.  The ignorant came out in full force to lash out at game managers who had the balls to actually follow through on the state’s wolf plan by removing 7 members of the Wedge Pack after they became habituated to preying on cattle.   The venue had to be changed to accommodate the crowd.   Self-described “theologians”, students, teachers, animal rights proponents, mental health therapists, and various pro-wolf activists, including members of Defenders of Wildlife, offered up nearly two hours of uninformed emotional drivel.

The disdain these people showed for wildlife professionals and the animosity they directed at cattle producers, although not surprising, was shocking to witness.   As was mentioned in the comments section of my previous post, “the facts just don’t matter to these folks”.  Despite being outnumbered, members of the Steven’s County Cattleman’s Association and the Washington State Farm bureau gave powerful testimonies.  The 3-minute speech by Diamond M Ranch owner McIrvine provided a moment of sanity and common sense.

The entire 5 hour webcast is archived here:  http://www.tvw.org    To find the hearing, click here and scroll down to Oct. 5 Washington State Fish and Wildlife Commission.  The wolf section of the hearing began at 1 P.M. and ended at 6 P.M.

So what are the facts?  Maybe we should look to the north to see what our friends across the border have to say about living with wolves.  Canadian game managers conservatively estimate the number of wolves in Canada to be between 60,000 and 70,000 animals, and increasing.  The Canuck’s have learned a few things about the difficulties of wolf management.

In the westernmost province of British Columbia, wolves are categorized as both a “game” animal and as a “furbearer”, which means they can be legally hunted and trapped.  The British Columbia “Furbearer Management Guidelines for Gray Wolf (canis lupis)” state that wolves are “not considered sensitive to harvest.[1]   Hunting seasons for wolves in B.C. are typically seven months to almost unlimited depending on the region.  Trapping is usually done in late fall or early winter but there are no trapping bag limits.

The following excerpts from the B. C. wolf management guidelines explain why there is such a liberal, nearly unlimited, policy on the taking of wolves just across the border:

“Those liberal regulations reflect the low level of conservation concern for the species, consistent with its Class 3 [unprotected] status. With their high potential for increase and high dispersal capability, wolves are able to sustain harvest rates of 30 percent or more, and the likelihood of achieving such [harvest] levels is low because of the species’ intelligence and adeptness at avoiding hunters and traps.” [2]

“The total BC wolf population was estimated to be about 8000 animals in the early 1990s, and was believed to be increasing.”[3]

“Thus, the most important management consideration for wolves will usually be in trying to keep numbers low enough so that conflict situations with humans are minimized, the risk of widespread disease outbreaks is reduced, and the pressure on local prey populations (including species at risk and other furbearers) is not excessive.” [4]

According to Canadian hunting guides, “wolf populations have skyrocketed in both Alberta and British Columbia.”  Despite extremely liberal hunting and trapping regulations, provincial game managers in B.C. found it necessary to kill an additional 1,300 wolves this year alone.  The British Columbia Cattleman’s Association currently estimates the number of wolves in the province has increased to approximately 10,000 animals while livestock losses due to wolf depredation are reaching into the millions of dollars. [5]

So much for liberal hunting and trapping regulations, eh?  During the Washington State Commission hearing, WDFW game managers stated that they were, “growing increasingly concerned that our non-lethal methods are not working.”  They noted that the Wedge Pack had become “trapwise” and so habituated to a diet of cattle that GPS tracking showed the pack followed the cattle trucks as Diamond M rancher McIrvine moved his cows and calves out of the area.

Here in the U.S., only Wyoming has an intelligent, science based, wolf control plan.  Wolves are categorized three ways in the state.  Wolves are classed as a “predator” in most of the state, which allows anyone to kill them anytime for any reason; “big game” in some regions with established quotas and hunting regulations in place;  and totally “protected” within the boundaries of Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks.

One additional interesting fact, according to our more experienced wildlife managers to the north, if you remove (kill) the alpha male and females, you can get a net INCREASE in the wolf population:

“Note that removal of the dominant adults in established packs may sometimes result in increased local numbers of wolves because, with the territorial system no longer in place to repel intruders and monopolize resources, the number of animals present and the number of successfully breeding females in the area may temporarily increase.” [6]

Game managers recommend the taking of transient juveniles because, “Juveniles are the most expendable members of the population, are generally less secure and more likely to be traveling extensively in search of food than are pack members in established territories, and are therefore the ones that are most likely to encounter traps. They are also less likely to be cautious because of lack of experience both generally and in the subject area. Transient juveniles are also the primary source of potential competition for the local food supply, and are the most likely to contract and carry diseases.”[7]

Did you get that?  Transient juvenile wolves that travel extensively should be taken out because they are the greatest threat to “the local food supply” and are the “most likely to contract and carry diseases”.

Of special note is the section in the B.C. wolf guidelines printed in bold red font outlining the serious public health risks posed by wolves:

“Trappers, hunters and other people who handle wolves should be aware of the diseases that may affect them, especially distemper and sarcoptic mange, both of which can infect domestic dogs. In addition, mange mites can cause a skin rash in humans who handle affected animals without gloves.”

“There is also some risk of hydatid disease, which is caused by the larval form of the canid tapeworm, Echinococcus granulosus.   Mammals, including humans, can develop this disease by the accidental ingestion of tapeworm eggs, which are passed in canid droppings. The eggs, which are very resistant and can be viable for months, may be transported in dust or soil picked up on a wolf’s feet or fur. Once inhaled or ingested by a herbivore (or human), they develop into hollow cysts in the internal organs, especially the liver and lungs. In humans, this is a potentially serious disease and is thought to be most often acquired from infected dogs that were fed uncooked, infected tissues of game animals.”

“Trappers and hunters are encouraged to bring any animal that looks unhealthy to a local conservation officer or regional office, and should always take special precautions to prevent contamination of their hands and clothing with infectious materials.  Most importantly, they are advised to handle these animals with gloves and/or wash their hands carefully before handling food, and to avoid inhaling dust that may be raised when brushing or shaking out a wolf’s fur.” [8]

 Wolf hunting and trapping seasons are already established in the United States, (Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho, as well as the Great Lakes Region).   It is unconscionable that there is no such health warning being given to U.S. citizens!

The British Columbia wolf guidelines emphasize the unique ability of wolves to rapidly re-colonize an area.  Although wolves often specialize in taking one particular prey species, they can adapt and learn to take any available species when their primary prey becomes depleted.   The ability of wolves to identify hunters and avoid traps, makes them exceptionally resistant to attempts to significantly reduce populations over the long term and very resilient to harvesting by trapping and hunting”.[9] 

Bottom line:  Wolves are here to stay. By next year we will see substantial increases in wolf numbers all across the region.  Here are a few of my predictions for 2013:

1. Wolf sightings will become more frequent in neighboring states (Oregon, Calif, Colorado, Utah, even Nevada).  Illegal take of wolves will be mainstream news, and violators will be prosecuted by the media first, then the courts.

2. Rapid reductions in ungulate populations due to wolf predation and wolf introduced diseases will bring about increased rates of livestock depredations.  Livestock producers will become increasingly vocal and less tolerant.  Some may even begin taking matters into their own hands risking prosecution and the loss of their property.

3.  Hunting and trapping seasons for wolves in Idaho and Montana will be liberalized as wolf numbers continue to explode in those states.

4  Hunting seasons for elk and deer will be shortened and harvest quotas reduced in all western states.  Poaching of game animals will increase.

5.  Washington State game managers will simply not have the funding to manage wolf numbers effectively, nor will they have the funding to publish new safety guidelines alerting hunters and trappers to the exposure risks of handling wolves or other infected game species.

6.  Game managers will propose a hunting season for wolves in Washington State, but no hunting will be allowed in 2013.  By 2014, it will be too late.  Wildlife managers in Idaho and Montana have not come close to the targeted reductions through liberal wolf hunting and trapping policies in those states.

7.   Wildlife managers and medical professionals will become increasingly concerned about wolf transmitted diseases.  Public perception about wolves will begin to change as information (facts) become available.  Tolerance for living with wolves will begin to erode, but wolf proponents will retain the upper hand.

Welcome to the new world disorder.

Please feel free to make your own predictions in the comments section.

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