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Wolf hunts more deadly than previously thought

[large thumbnail url=”wolf-hunts-more-deadly-than-previously-thought” filename=”science” year=”2010″ month=”09″ day=”30″] [thumbnail icon url=”wolf-hunts-more-deadly-than-previously-thought” filename=”science” year=”2010″ month=”09″ day=”30″] An article which appeared on the ScienceInsider Web site challenges the belief that a wolf population can survive massive losses to hunting without long-term harm to their numbers.

A policy to sustainably manage gray wolves via recreational hunting appears to rely on faulty ecological science, says a new paper published today in PLoS ONE. The paper challenges a long-held assumption that gray wolf populations won’t be decimated by hunting and predator-control programs. It has been believed up till now that such efforts can remove as many as 28% to 50% of the animals in a population without causing long-term harm to their numbers.

The paper comes on the heels of last year’s first gray wolf hunting seasons in Montana and Idaho. (Wolves are disliked because they eat elk and livestock.) Hunters killed 260 wolves, close to 20% of the two states’ wolf populations, including members of one of Yellowstone National Park’s research packs. Combined with wolves harvested through predator-control programs, some 37.1% of the wolves in Idaho and Montana were eliminated in 2009. Can the recovering wolf populations, which were removed from the protection of the Endangered Species Act in 2008, be killed at this rate? Although the hunting season for this year has been canceled following a recent court ruling to reinstate the wolves on the federal endangered species list, the question remains important, say Scott Creel and Jay Rotella, ecologists at Montana State University, Bozeman. And the short answer is no, the two say.

“It’s long been argued that hunting has little effect on wolves’ overall mortality rates, so they can sustain” high harvest rates, Creel says. (One paper arguing that point is here.) But quotas of 28% to 59%—which the two states used for their wolf-hunting policies—are based on a “flawed assumption” in the scientific literature about how hunting affects wolf populations, he says…

You can read the entire article on sciencemag.org: Wolf hunts more deadly than previously thought

This finding was not particularly surprising. The assumption is that the hunters would kill the same wolves which would be killed by natural attrition. That attrition would consist of infant mortality, the injured, the sick and the old. A population of wolves is designed to absorb those losses. What a population of wolves is not designed to handle is their strongest, and best animals being shot by trophy hunters.

Seems obvious to me, and hopefully more of these types of scientific studies can serve as the basis for smart management decisions and finally supplant the dubious assumptions currently in place.

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