HOWL Colorado

The Wolf vs. Deer controversy

[large thumbnail url=”the-wolf-vs-deer-controversy” filename=”facts” year=”2010″ month=”01″ day=”28″] [thumbnail icon url=”the-wolf-vs-deer-controversy” filename=”facts” year=”2010″ month=”01″ day=”28″] Articles, such as the one written by Doug Smith for the Star Tribune, highlight the continued battle between hunters and wolves. There are still many misconceptions and the blame for declining deer numbers continues to be layed on wolves — something which is not supported by scientific research. 

Hunters in Minnesota are blaming wolves for the decline in available deer in the northern parts of the state, but Dan Stark, the Department of Natural Resources wolf specialist isn’t convinced that wolves are a signficant driving factor in the decline in the number of deer. The information below was stated by Mr. Stark in the article Mr. Smith wrote.

Scientific facts stated by Stark are in line with the research published by the International Wolf Center and have been cross-checked with other sources.

Research shows that wolves in Minnesota are known to feed on deer as their primary source of food. What does this mean in solid numbers, however. It means that a single wolf eats enough deer meat to add up to somewhere between 15 and 19 deer.

With an estimated 3,000 wolves in Minnesota, that means wolves account for  45,000 to 57,000 deer killed per year. Most of which are weakened by illness, or old age. Wolves are generally speaking going to take the easier to catch prey due to the lower risk of personal injury and the relatively lower expenditure of energy required to bring a weakened deer down.*

In a region which has 450,000 deer, that is a wolf-caused mortality rate of roughly 10-13%.

In that same region (northern Minnesota in this case), hunters take an average of 100,000 deer per year. Twice as many deer as wolves take.

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources ran a study for 15 years which monitored the movement and causes of death for white-tailed deer. They put radio collars on 450 animals. They also collared 55 wolves. The typical mortality rate for deer, caused by wolves, during that study was between 5-10%. Harsh conditions raised this number during 1995-1996.

It is also worth noting, as Stark did for Doug Smith’s article, that since 2003, hunters have killed record numbers of deer. Exceeding a quarter of a million animals five times in that period.  

Deer are exceedingly efficient at reproducing. And 13% of deer live to be between 10 and 18 years old. They are designed to weather the challenges of being lower on the food chain.

These animals have lived somewhat symbiotically for many thousands of years. If there is an excessive strain on their population, it comes in the form of human hunters, specifically those who hunt for trophies not subsistence.

Wise human hunters have learned from the other predators in this world. They have learned to avoid shooting female deer at certain times of the year. They don’t shoot the healthy males as they recognize their value to the herd.

Responsible hunters are much like their wolf competitors. They kill what they need and they kill wisely.

However, this is not the case for sport or trophy hunters and the sheer number of human hunters, compounded by the callous and thoughtless hunting philosophies held by many, is causing significant damage not only to the Minnesota deer populations, but also to many other population of animals around the US. And their answer is to blame wolves, or some other natural predator.

Humans, for the most part, are predators. Carnivorous hunters. It is time they learned how to live as part of the natural balance. If the deer disappear from northern Minnesota, it will be the fault of human hunters, and destruction of habitat, not the wolves.

It should also be noted that wolves will eat their natural prey as a significant preference over domesticated livestock. It is a known fact that a plentiful supply of a wolf’s natural prey has a significant impact on the number of livestock attacks.

* These numbers vary a little. But generally are pretty stable regardless of the source you look at. In this article, I referenced the specific numbers mentioned by Stark. However, the International Wolf Center’s numbers are remarkably similar.

Resources

Read the Star Tribune article: Wolves. Vs Deer: A controversy rekindles
International Wolf Center: Wolf Predation on Ungulates
Minnesota Department of Natural Resources: “Bounce Back” deer information

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