5 Sep 2008, 7:30pm
by admin

Wolf Predation: More Bad News

Note: the following essay was published in the Sept/Oct 2008 issue of MuleyCrazy Magazine [here], the premier hunting periodical in the country today. With a subscription you get excellent articles like this one, and the photos that go with it, and hunting news, and a whole lot more.

by Dr. Charles Kay, Ph.D., published in MuleyCrazy 7(5), pp. 29-32.

As I explained in the last issue of MuleyCrazy, pro-wolf advocates are now demanding 6,000 or more wolves as one interbreeding population in every western state. Pro-wolf advocates also claim that predation, in general, and wolves in particular have no impact on prey populations. Recent research by Dr. Tom Bergerud and his colleagues, however, paints an entirely different picture and serves as a poignant example of what will happen to the west’s mule deer if pro-wolf advocates have their way.

Woodland and mountain caribou have been declining throughout North America since European settlement. Many attribute the decline to the fact that caribou must feed on arboreal or terrestrial lichens during winter, a food that is being destroyed by logging, forest fires, and other human activities; i.e., modern land-use practices are to blame. However, others attribute the caribou’s decline to predation by wolves and other carnivores. To separate between these competing hypotheses, Dr. Tom Bergerud and his co-workers designed a series of simple but elegant experiments and have now accumulated 30 years of data.

In the northern most arc of Lake Superior, there lies a cluster of seven major islands plus smaller islets. The Slate Islands are five miles from the mainland at their nearest point and only twice, during the last 30 years, has winter ice bridged that gap. Terrestrial lichens are absent, plus the islands have been both logged and burned, making them unfit for caribou according to most biologists. The Slate Islands lack wolves, black bears, whitetailed deer, and moose, but caribou are indigenous. As a companion study, Bergerud and his associates chose Pukaskwa National Park, which stretches for 50 miles along the north shore of Lake Superior. In contrast to the Slate Islands, Pukaskwa has an abundance of lichens, which are supposed to be a critical winter food for caribou, but unlike the Slate Islands, Pukaskwa is home to wolves, bears, moose, and whitetails. Woodland caribou are also present.

So we have islands that are poor caribou habitat, but which have no predators versus a nearby national park that is excellent caribou habitat but which contains wolves. Now according to what many biologists and pro-wolf advocates would have you believe, habitat is the all important factor in maintaining healthy ungulate populations, while predation can largely be ignored. Well, nothing could be further from the truth. Habitat, as it turns out, is irrelevant and ecologists have been, at best, brain-dead for years.

Despite the supposedly “poor” habitat in the Slate Islands, Bergerud and his research team recorded the highest densities of caribou ever found anywhere in North America. Moreover, those high densities have persisted since at least 1949 when the herd was first censused. More importantly, the density of caribou in the “poor” habitat, but predator-free, Slate Islands was 100 times that in Pukaskwa National Park where predators hold sway; 100 times or 10,000% more caribou per unit area––a significant difference by any objective standard!

Then during the winter of 1993-94, a natural experiment occurred when Lake Superior froze and two wolves crossed to the Slate Islands. Within days, the two wolves proceeded to cut through the Slate Island caribou like a hot knife through butter. Because caribou, like mule deer, are exceedingly susceptible to wolf predation. Only when the two wolves disappeared did caribou numbers recover.

A second set of manipulated experiments was conducted when Bergerud and his associates transplanted Slate Island caribou to adjoining areas with and without wolves. A release to Bowman Island, where wolves and moose were present, failed due to predation. A second release to Montreal Island doubled in numbers until Lake Superior froze and wolves reached that island. A third release was to Michipicoten Island where wolves were absent but so too were lichens. Despite the “poor” habitat, those caribou increased at an average annual rate of 18% for nearly 20 years. A fourth release to Lake Superior Provincial Park on the mainland failed due to wolf predation. Thus, the data are both conclusive and overwhelming. Habitat is largely irrelevant because caribou numbers are limited by wolf predation. Bergerud goes so far as to say that managers have wasted the last 50 years measuring lichens! Remove the wolves and you have 100 times more caribou, even on supposedly “poor” ranges.

Based on his research in the Slate Islands and elsewhere, Dr. Bergerud has come to the conclusion that mountain and woodland caribou throughout the length and breath of North America are facing extinction due to increased predation, mostly from wolves, but also from bears, both black and grizzly, mountain lions, and coyotes. Caribou populations that have persisted for thousands of years will be gone in our lifetimes. But here is the kicker, it is not really a “wolf problem.” Instead it is a problem of too many moose and/or whitetails.

Historically and prehistorically moose were absent from most of western North America and eastern Canada, as well. Even in Alaska, moose were historically limited to a few, very remote areas. Since European settlement, however, moose numbers have exploded, as has the area occupied by those animals. There are more moose in North America today than at anytime in the last 12,000 years, except for the 1950’s-60’s when predator control was widespread and effective. Historically, caribou numbers were low and those animals so widely spaced that they could support only a few or no wolves. The addition of alternative prey, though, has allowed wolves to increase and the wolves then drive the more vulnerable caribou ever downward. That is to say, the addition of moose did not buffer, or reduce, predation pressure on caribou but instead increased predation on caribou, the exact opposite of what most people would predict.

That, however, is not the most intriguing part. Why were moose absent historically and prehistorically? According to Dr. Bergerud, moose, and to a lesser extent whitetails, have expanded in numbers and range due to climatic change and/or logging. In this, though, Bergerud erred. First, the expansion of moose occurred well before any global warming that may have occurred and second, based on fire-history studies there has always been a significant amount of the browse favored by moose and whitetails. Instead, as I have explained elsewhere, (see Kay, C.E. 1997. Aboriginal Overkill and the Biogeography of Moose in Western North America. Alces 33:141-164), native hunters extirpated moose over large areas, which allowed woodland and mountain caribou to persist. As native hunting declined, moose populations expanded, followed by wolves.

Two of the woodland caribou herds in most rapid decline lie not in Alberta’s heavily logged boreal forests, but rather in the remote wilderness of Canada’s Banff and Jasper National Parks. Why are caribou headed towards extinction in two national parks where there is no logging or other development? Wolves! Wolves that are maintained at too high a density by unnaturally large numbers of elk. Elk, that like moose, were historically kept at very low levels by native hunters. There are more elk on western ranges today than at anytime since the last glaciation.

All this has led Dr. Bergerud to conclude that there are only two ways to keep mountain and woodland caribou from going extinct. You either have to significantly reduce wolves or significantly reduce the number of moose or whitetails where the latter occur. Here we need to note that other studies have shown that wolves and bears routinely keep moose populations at only 10% or less of what the habitat would support in the absence of predation. Even at those low moose densities, though, there are still more than enough wolves to drive woodland and mountain caribou to extinction. So, if we were to significantly reduce the number of wolves, we would not only save the caribou, but we would also have more moose, which is a key issue among subsistence hunters in Alaska and the far north.

As I have explained in my previous articles on predation, all this is of critical importance to mule deer and mule deer hunters because the same thing, termed apparent or predator meditated competition, occurs with elk and mule deer. By preying mostly on the elk, wolves can/will take the more vulnerable mule deer to exceedingly low levels or extinction. The wolves that were turned loose in Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming have preyed primarily on elk and there are data on how many elk each wolf kills per year––22 elk/wolf/year––but there is little data from those states or anywhere else on the effect of wolf predation on mule deer. To put it simply, mule deer decline so rapidly that there is nothing left to study!

Hunter harvest of black-tailed deer on Vancouver Island though, gives some idea of what will happen if pro-wolf advocates have their way. Before wolves arrived, sportsmen on Vancouver Island took home around 25,000 blacktails a year. Now that wolves have overrun the island, the figure has plummeted to less than 4,000 deer a year. Moreover, blacktails are now found in reasonable abundance only where they live in suburbs or cities; i.e., the deer have moved into towns to avoid predators.

And that is not the end of the bad news. Dr. Scott Creel, a professor at Montana State University, recently published a study in Science on predation risk and elk reproductive physiology. According to that research, elk in the Yellowstone ecosystem are being harassed by wolves to such a degree that pregnant cows are aborting or reabsorbing their unborn calves. Even studies of oil and gas development on winter ranges have never shown this level of harassment. If humans chased wildlife around the way wolves do, the humans would be in jail.

Attention also needs to be drawn to a recent book by Bergerud, Luttich, and Camps on “The Return of Caribou to Ungava”, which I just reviewed at the request of the Canadian Field-Naturalist. This is simply the best book that has appeared on caribou ecology and predator-prey relationships in many years, perhaps ever. Not only do Bergerud and his co-authors discuss the woodland caribou- wolf dilemma outlined above, but they also address the age-old question of why migratory barren ground caribou are so abundant relative to sedentary woodland and mountain ecotypes. And again the answer is wolves, or more correctly, the lack thereof.

First you need to understand a little about evolution in that male and female arctic caribou have entirely different strategies to maximize their inclusive fitness. Males select habitats with large amounts of high-quality foods so that they can produce maximum body and antler growth, thereby winning breeding opportunities during the rut. Females, on the other hand, select habitats that maximize the survival of their reproductive output; i.e., calves. So, in the spring, pregnant caribou migrate to remote tundra locations where there are no alternative prey to support wolves or bears. The forage on those areas is of poor quality, but security for newborn young is paramount. Breeding wolves can not follow the female caribou to the barrens because the wolves are tied to densities at treeline where there are moose. Male caribou also remain near treeline because green-up comes earlier there and the quantity and quality of forage are better.

Towards the end of summer, the bulls move north to join the cows and calves on their annual migration to distant winter ranges. After their pups can keep up with the adults, wolves abandon their territories and shadow the ever moving caribou. This is when the wolves begin to kill the young calves. And annihilation it is, for even with the caribou’s long-distance, anti-predator migrations, wolves eventually gain the upper hand and drive caribou numbers down. That is until the caribou are saved by Arctic foxes! How can Arctic foxes save caribou from wolf predation? Rabies!

Rabies is endemic in Arctic foxes and every four to five years the disease reaches epidemic proportions. And when it does, wolves become infected, wolf numbers decline by 80% to 90%, and the caribou calves and their mothers can breathe a little easier, and more importantly, a lot longer. Without Arctic foxes and rabies, the large herds of barren ground caribou would not exist. All this, though, has been ignored by the pro-wolf crowd.

To quote Dr. Bergerud, “When…biologists attempt to reduce wolf populations to increase caribou stocks, they are blamed [by pro-wolf advocates and the media] for intruding into the Balance of Nature.” Earthjustice, the environmental law firm representing pro-wolf groups, for instance, has repeatedly cited “The Balance of Nature” in its legal briefs to federal judges. But according to Dr. Charles Elton, the father of ecology, “The Balance of Nature” though widely believed by the public “has the disadvantage of being untrue.”

To again quote Dr. Bergerud, “The Balance of Nature is not a scientific hypothesis, since there is no disproof that its [advocates] will accept. [Instead] it is a closely held idea [like religion] that is not testable… Balance of Nature advocates, as a last [resort] blame imbalances between predator and prey…[on modern] man’s intrusion. The most widely quoted balance of nature example… is the interaction of wolves and moose on Isle Royale…. [but] Isle Royale is a [totally] unnatural area [as there was/is] no opportunity for egress- ingress of the wolves, the major [way] they adjust their numbers, and [because] there [are] no bears on the island, a major predator of moose.” Which is exactly what I said in 1993 when I wrote my first article on predation. In short, Isle Royale is a flawed test of predator-prey ecology. The Slate Islands and Pakaskwa National Park are not.

What the world needs to learn from the Slate Islands is that wolves, not habitat, limit ungulate populations. While the take home message for mule deer hunters is that if pro-wolf advocates get their way, our already limited hunting opportunities will decline to nothingness––which unfortunately, has been the goal of some all along. But letting predators decimate the game herds that sportsmen worked so hard to build over the last 70 years will destroy the fundamental framework of wildlife conservation in North America.

Just look at what has happened in Kenya. At the urging of animal rights groups, Kenya banned all consumptive use of wildlife in 1977 and as a result, Kenya’s once magnificent game herds have plummeted by 80% and are predicted to be extinct in the near future. Banning hunting either by decree or by leaving predators, and especially wolves with their high reproductive rate, unchecked would be an ecological disaster. After all if there are no mule deer to help safeguard winter ranges, those areas stand a high probability of being turned into housing developments. For if wildlife is not an economic asset, it will simply disappear, as it has in Kenya. And do not let anyone fool you, wolves are not an economic asset. That too is another of the pro-wolf lies.

8 Sep 2008, 4:35pm
by YPmule

August 6, 2008 Long Valley Advocate

“Wolf, livestock conflicts lead to more deaths on both sides” [Headline]

… But within about 18 hours last Thursday [July 31] afternoon through Friday [Aug 1] morning, Cascade rancher Phil Davis lost three yearling heifers to two wolves that have been seen frequenting the pastures about one mile east of downtown Cascade.”

(No link, as its a hard copy only newspaper.) I happen to agree with Mr. Davis:

“Davis also contends that there is a double standard at work by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in managing the wolves. He said that hatchery chinook are not protected by the federal government, as they are considered to not be the same species as native, naturally-producing runs of salmon.

“Yet, he said that although the wolves introduced into Idaho are from a genetically different species of wolf from Canada, they are being protected as if they are the native wolves once found through-out Idaho.

“He says he also sees a disconnect in the thinking of those who want to see wolves protected in all instances, yet they don’t seem to care about the suffering the wolves bring to cattle and sheep they attack and maim, but don’t kill.

“He points out that much of the opposition to controlling wolves comes from people who consider themselves to be humanitarians, people who would not do anything to harm other animals. “They don’t get to see what the wolves do to the cattle,” he said.”

(Davis had to shoot 2 of the 3 cows to end their suffering.) Yes we have seen what wolves to do elk, horses and mules. Eating on them while they are still alive. We adopted an old range mare that had been mauled by wolves, you can still put your fingers into the fang marks (scars) on her neck and legs, but F&G says it wasn’t wolves (even tho there was an eye witness to the attack.) Last year wolves killed a mule and a guard donkey not far from here, and mauled another mule. Another fellow lost horses to wolves recently - probably the same pack. Of course none of these losses are considered by DoW - since they were perpetrated against folks who are NOT ranchers. DoW don’t care about us rural folks!

We take darn good care of our animals, stout fences, good stock dogs to run off predators, but now we have to make the decision, do we let the dogs out after dark to do their job or not? Is that disturbance wolves or just a fox trying to get into the hen house?

30 Jan 2009, 8:04pm
by Bill W.

This is an excellent article. We now have wolves in our state (Washington). I knew they were here a year before Fish and Wildlife. They are in my backyard and the Fed are watching them like hawks. I see tracks on my place every day of the year. I took a dozen trail cam pictures before Fish and Wildlife knew. I told them and one Bio. told me he would put that sighting in his folder with Bigfoot sightings. Once they found them the biologist’s comment was “I’m elated.” We have a 17 member group working out a plan for introduction but after seeing the judge reverse the Rocky Mountain delisting, I think we will be over run and lose our deer herd along with many cattle before it changes. One can’t speak out against them much here or you are a SUSPECT. With the fines and penalties, any physical efforts to prevent them flourishing will have to be totally silent. Good luck, I’m doing all I can to inform folks but I am few and they are many. (Bill W. is a Twisp, Wa. rancher)

14 Mar 2009, 4:22pm
by Stephen B.

Some one should swamp the Governor’s computers with this valuable info. I think saveourelk.com and you do a valuable job in informing the public. but until we get an organization built and monetary backing behind that group (like the pro wolf advocates) then we are going to loose this battle.

I live in Pierce Idaho and hunt the back country for elk. That term means a whole other thing now that we have wolves. We are watching what Dr. Bergerud predicted so many years ago would happen. Wolves hunt the back country mostly in the winter when elk come down to lower elevations, and wolves spend most of their summers here close to town eating our whitetail population.

The IDFG along with the Feds, who knew about our population of elk was already declining before reintroduction, should be thrown in jail or at least fired for not protecting our wildlife. It wasn’t their job to create more problems; it was to fix existing problems. I believe they have failed. If you haven’t been to saveourelk.com I suggest you go there and look at what they didn’t tell you about wolf introduction. What can be done short of an overthrown in Idaho Government? I am looking for a way.

6 Apr 2009, 11:56am
by joegm

Just one question about this article: If we follow the author’s logic back 12,000 years why do elk/moose/deer/caribou exist at all? Would not wolves have destroyed every living thing on this continent? I think there must be some variable, or group of variables that we are not considering.

I would also love to see the evidence supporting the rabies/artic fox claim.

6 Apr 2009, 9:25pm
by Mike

Good question, Joe.

Human beings have been the keystone predators in North America for at least 13,500 years, and some hypothesize for as much as twice that vintage. Human predation controlled ungulate populations, holding them at something like 10 percent of carrying capacity. Some herbivores were probably driven to extinction by human predation. And other predators, such as wolves, were limited by reduced prey populations and direct control by ancient human hunters.

Human beings have always competed with wolves, and we have been winning that competition for thousands of years. It is only when we humans decide to let wolves multiply that their populations burgeon. Without human controls, wolves rapidly overtake the balances we human beings have crafted for millennia.

6 Apr 2009, 10:53pm
by joegm

Thank you for the reply. For purely my own knowledge I would like know if there was a specific paper or book where you obtained the numbers/info I assume you were citing (10% carrying capacity and humans directly controlling predator populations). I am simply trying to educate myself in regards to this issue that I may take an educated stance.

So, are we seeing the same effects in Alaska or Canada where wolves are obliterating game animals?

Why then did the buffalo exist in such numbers? Or the vast caribou migrations? Would not have wolves decimated them? Several hundred thousand humans using primitive technology were able to control literally tens of millions of caribou and bison, while keeping the wolves/bear/cougars from killing them all? I have no real sense regarding early deer, elk or moose population.

I do not want to get into the debate about humans causing the extinction of all the Pleistocene Megafauna since I have seen convincing evidence for both sides. Anyway I really appreciate any information!

7 Apr 2009, 9:19am
by Mike

The early European explorers brought Old World diseases that decimated the indigenous human population of the Americas. Some game species irrupted in the absence of traditional, intense hunting pressure. Among those were bison and passenger pigeons, which had not existed in huge numbers previous to the 95% die-off of humanity (sometimes refered to as the American Holocaust).

Humans did indeed control bison, caribou, elk, big horn sheep, and other game populations. Humans are and have always been the smartest and deadliest of predators. And there were a great many more people in the Americas prior to 1492 than most moderns understand.

One must-read reference is. Wilderness and Political Ecology: Aboriginal Influences and the Original State of Nature, Charles E. Kay and Randy T. Simmons, eds. 2002. University of Utah Press. See [here] for a review.

There are numerous other cutting-edge scientific papers and books on these topics reviewed (or posted in full) in the W.I.S.E. Colloquia Wildlife Sciences and History of Western Landscapes.

7 Apr 2009, 11:33am
by joegm

Excellent thank you very much. This should keep me busy for awhile.

30 May 2010, 7:40am
by Tim G.

What must be done about the wolves is this:

A. Get the Idaho Cattle Association on board with you. They have nearly complete control of the legislature. If they say the wolves must go it will become a legal reality.

B. Every [willing] man’s hand must be actively turned against the wolf. Under the pretext of hunting coyotes or other small game (using small-bore rifles), opportunities must be developed to get a bullet into the thorax of every wolf possible. Who would believe you were actively “hunting for” wolves with a 22LR or a 22Mag rifle? No one, that’s who. Center-body hits work wonders on most creatures great and small.

Do not be concerned with “collecting” the beast. Just get a bullet into his body where he will eventually succumb to the effects of the wound.

C. The wildlife “officials” must be made to feel “afraid” to go into the woods except in big enough numbers that their presence cannot be a secret. That way they cannot be present to create difficulties for B above. How you go about making them “feel afraid” is an ugly business but a small number of “incidents” can have a “desirable effect” for decades, (as demonstrated many times and in many places in the east, it works.)

These measures DO and WILL WORK if you are willing to go to the trouble. How serious are you about stomping your own snakes?

Man has [until recently] tried to exterminate wolves all through time and the wolves are still here. They don’t need “help” from men.

Use the Cattleman’s associations to control the laws of the states. Theirs is always the strongest voice in the legislature of nearly every state and especially so in the west. While that is going on, get out there and take care of business!



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