Study calls for better data on wolf-killed livestock, wolf trapping
A group of wildlife advocates is calling for more transparent and inclusive wolf management after finding data on livestock killed by wolves and wolf trapping to be woefully lacking.
The group wrote an article on the matter, published in the journal Conservation Science and Practice, co-authored by members of Wolves of the Rockies, Aquarium of the Pacific and the #Relist Wolves Campaign, among other wildlife organizations.
Their assessment began with looking at U.S. Department of Agriculture data on livestock killings. But the researchers found it’s only published about every 5 years and includes livestock deaths that are only presumed wolf kills, not necessarily confirmed wolf kills.
To try and get more confirmation, the researchers compared federal data with wolf kills confirmed by “on-the-ground state wildlife agencies.”
“For example, in 2015 the USDA reported a total of 2,834 cattle losses due to wolves across the three states of Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming," they wrote. "Meanwhile, wildlife agencies across these same three states in the same 2015 calendar year confirmed only 148 total cattle killed by wolves.”
Still, that federal data showed sheep killings attributed to wolves only made up 0.8-3% of unwanted deaths in the Northern Rockies in 2020. An earlier 2015 report on cows found that wolves accounted for 0.7-1.5% of unwanted deaths.
Other predators and non-predator causes made up the vast majority of unwanted deaths.
Looking at the scant data on traps set to kill wolves, the study also found that at times traps could kill as many, or more, non-wolf creatures than wolves. But again, data was lacking.
“Right now, people are just: 'One side tells one story, another side tells another story,'” said the study’s lead author Peter Kareiva, who's a research professor at UCLA and CEO of Aquarium of the Pacific. “We really need just everybody to be talking about the same common data set.”
Kareiva says this kind of data-gathering will be important for a number of apex species as their numbers recover, including grizzly bears and sharks.
When asked why a person who runs an aquarium in California would lead such a research effort, Kareiva said he had previous experience working with wolf data in Alaska, and that people who work in the aquarium world care for all kinds of species.
“Sometimes people in aquaria get grief for not caring about animals, but something I’ve learned is I’ve never worked with a group of people who care (as much) about animal welfare,” he said.
Idaho and Montana dramatically increased wolf hunting access last year, and environmentalists have called for federal officials to step in to protect them.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service also recently released its plan for the recovery of Mexican Gray wolves in the southwest, though environmentalists argue it still falls short and caters too much to ranchers.
This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.