Thursday, April 06, 2006

Killing wolves works -- briefly

By MIKE STARK Of The Gazette Staff

Killing wolves that attack cattle or sheep may take care of the immediate problem but doesn't stop conflicts later, according to a new University of Calgary study. Researchers looked at wolf attacks in Alberta and in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming for more than 15 years to determine the effectiveness of removing wolves that prey on livestock.

Marco Musiani, the study's lead author and an assistant professor at the University of Calgary, said that once a "problem" wolf is killed, others simply to move in and take its place, Musiani said. "This study shows that wolves are being killed as a corrective, punitive measure -- not a preventative one," Musiani said in a statement. "People hope that killing individual wolves will rid the population of offenders, but this isn't happening."

The study is published in the current issue of the Wildlife Society Bulletin. Musiani is scheduled to discuss his findings today at the North American Wolf Conference at Chico Hot Springs, an annual gathering of scientists, policymakers and wolf enthusiasts.

Conflicts between livestock and wolves have been a long-running, contentious issue since wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone National Park and Idaho in 1995 and 1996. In recent years, as prime habitat in Yellowstone has filled up, wolves have been spreading into areas outside the park, causing ranchers to fear for their livestock. Even though coyotes every year kill far more livestock than wolves, the presence of wolves -- especially in new areas -- always generates hot debate.

Musiani and other researchers looked over data in Alberta from 1982 to 1996 and in the northern Rocky Mountains from 1987 to 2003. During that time, there were 219 confirmed reports of cows killed in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming and 602 sheep kills. Most of the attacks occurred between March and October and began with the onset of calving season. During that time, 120 wolves were killed. More recently in the Northern Rockies, investigators confirmed that wolves killed 97 cows, 244 sheep, 11 dogs and two horses in 2005. In response, 103 wolves were killed by wildlife managers.

Killing wolves that prey on livestock isn't intended to reduce the overall population but to get rid of offending animals. But Musiani said the results can be short-lived. "In our study area, even if entire wolf packs are extirpated through control actions, neighboring or dispersing individuals may readily fill home-range vacancies," the study said. Instead, it might be more useful to pay attention to when attacks occur over a predictable schedule and take preventive action including lethal and nonlethal methods such as guard dogs, fencing, wolf repellents and relocating wolves to "wilder areas," the study said.

"We see the greatest promise for reducing wolf depredation by improving animal husbandry, especially in high-risk seasons," it said. But another issue then must be addressed: covering the cost of extra efforts to prevent attacks and compensating those who lose livestock to wolves.

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