A new analysis by biologists and wildlife experts refutes many of the justifications for intense coyote hunting in Idaho, Montana and Wisconsin.
LOS ANGELES – A new analysis by biologists and wildlife experts debunks many of the justifications for the intense hunting of wolves in Idaho, Montana and Wisconsin.
The paper — which has been reviewed by several biologists and wildlife advocates in the country — finds that the rationale for wolf hunting skews currently available data and causes confusion in the public’s perception of wolves, according to Rihanna Wilson, a communications specialist for canine strategies.
Wolves were removed from protection under the Endangered Species Act in 2020. Since then, wolf hunts in many western states have threatened to wipe out the species.
Cattle ranchers and herders have been the primary drivers of wolves eradication efforts, claiming that wolves prey on their livestock.
But the report – entitled “A New Era of Wolves Management…” – found that although livestock deaths were used as a major factor in justifying wolf hunts, the number of sheep and cattle killed by wolves never exceeded 0.21% and 0.05%, respectively.
This data was derived from the readily available 2020 USDA report on the killing of sheep and a similar 2015 report on cattle.
Here in Utah, gray wolves are still considered endangered in much of the state, and the predators are rarely seen.
Only a few wolves have been seen in Utah in the past two decades, but Fish and Game officials have reported the possibility of a coyote killing some cattle in Rich County in 2020.
The experience of wolf reintroduction in Idaho is more typical than in many Western states.
After his extermination in the early twentiethThe tenth century, wolves were reintroduced to Idaho in 1995.
Although the animals initially had protected status, this move was strongly opposed by the statewide livestock industry. At their request, state officials developed a Wildlife Management Plan for Wolves in 2011 that set the “ideal” level for the wolf population at 15 packs of 10 animals each.
The number of wolves in Idaho is now estimated to be about 1,500 animals. Legislation signed by Governor Brad Little in 2021 earmarked $600,000 to reduce the population by 90 percent.
Idaho lawmakers say reducing the state’s wolf population to 150 would allow the species to survive without sparking conflicts with ranchers and poachers.
Wildlife experts object that wolves must be allowed to return to their natural historical range before their populations can be considered sustainable.
Officials in other Western states are siding with Idaho. Montana has enacted laws similar to those in Idaho, with the goal of reducing the wolf population by 85 percent. Wyoming also allows wolf hunts in most parts of the state.
This legislation sparked a wave of lawsuits in federal courts.
In February, US District Judge Jeffrey White ruled that the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) prematurely removed federal protections for endangered species of gray wolves in most of the lower 48 states in 2021.
More recently, however, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled that ranchers and livestock associations could intervene in the case to defend the previous administration’s removal of the gray wolf from the list.
No doubt reanalysis by scholars will be cited in that lawsuit.
Their report, “A New Era of Wolves Management…” found that within six months of the 2021-2022 hunting season in Montana, at least 25 wolves from Yellowstone National Park were killed when they roamed outside the park’s boundaries. This number represents 20 percent of Yellowstone’s federally protected wolf population.
They also found that for every wolf trapped in Idaho from 2012 to 2019, one untargeted animal was mistakenly captured. In Montana, half of all non-target species accidentally caught in wolf traps were domestic dogs during the 2018 to 2020 hunting seasons.
The re-analysis concluded: “Hunting and trapping gray wolves (the gray wolf) significantly in the “lower 48″ states of the United States. We evaluated the data used to justify the intense hunting pressure on wolves and found the lack of accessible biological data. We found that there was a clear need for more transparency in reporting livestock losses, wolves killings, and especially the numbers and types of non-target species captured in traps set for wolves.”
This study was conducted by Desiree Felix, Elisha Tate Pulliam, Madison Mikita, and Kim Bean.
Tusk Strategies is a freelance advocacy group with offices in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles.