Science and Sentiment Say Wolf Trophy Hunting Doesn’t Wash

By on December 5, 2014

If policy makers stick to their guns and continue allowing trophy hunters to kill wolves in six states in the Great Lakes and Northern Rockies regions, they will be defying both science and, generally speaking, the will of voters.

Wolf pups

Washington State University researchers found that shooting wolves indiscriminately may make things worse for farm animals, and for wolves. Photo: Alamy

Folks, the recent weeks of 2014 have brought us to a turning point. So let’s turn. It’s time to turn away from the past and catch up with the future in the way we manage predators in the wild.

The right decision now, after what we have learned, is to suspend trophy hunting and trapping programs for the small, recovering wolf populations just recently taken off the federal list of endangered species – with the knowledge that it’s the right thing to do on so many levels.

One compelling reason is science. Underlying the growing number of wolf hunts in the United States is the wrongheaded, but long-standing, belief that trophy hunting and trapping programs for wolves reduce the threat that wolves pose to cattle, sheep, and other free-ranging livestock.

Well, that theory is now in doubt. And it’s not just me who says so.

The first serious study of that theory has been released and it found just the opposite. When I say serious, I mean very serious science. Washington State University researchers dug into comprehensive statistics from 25 years of wolf “management” and found that shooting wolves indiscriminately may make things worse for farm animals. As well as for wolves.

That’s because when disrupted, wolf families adapt, move, split up, increase reproduction – and then they kill even more livestock.

Researchers found that shooting wolves indiscriminately reduces predation on cattle and sheep only when wolf populations are brought so low that, guess what, they end up protected again under the Endangered Species Act.

Wolf haters are having a hard time coping with the truth here. A spokeswoman for one Washington state group was quoted as criticizing the integrity of the 25-year statistical survey because it was sponsored by the state legislature.

Or here’s what a spokesman for Idaho’s wool growers told National Geographic: "The professor can say whatever he wants. We're not going to just let wolves run wild."

Well, folks, you can’t invoke science only when it suits you – as the trophy hunting lobby so often does. The science may not be the final word, but it’s an important set of facts to inform a final decision.

The other element to consider is our values: obviously, here we differ with the wool growers and the trophy hunters. But let’s face it, by all accounts, it appears their views are in the minority. The public wants more protection for wolves, in a world where we all are showing greater conscious consideration of animals.

In the first-ever plebiscite on the subject, voters in Michigan sided with wolves and against trophy hunting and trapping. Voters faced two separate votes on laws passed by the Legislature to permit wolf hunts, and both were repealed. The margins were overwhelming, 64-36 and 55-45, with one of the measures getting more than 1.8 million votes against wolf hunting, more votes than any of the statewide candidates for office received in their winning elections.

Let me add that Michigan has one of the most deeply rooted and publicly popular hunting traditions in the United States. But voters there, including hunters, understood that wolf haters were plain wrong – and that these ancient animals played a vital role in the wild ecosystem, and in fact were more valuable as a draw for tourists than as stuffed decorations in private trophy rooms. What’s more, nobody eats wolves, so the idea of killing them has no practical value, and responsible hunters don’t go for that, either.

Just as with the new science, there can be no quibbling with the meaning here.

The two pillars of good policy – independent and verified science and thoughtful electoral consensus – agree: hunting wolves is not acceptable to the public and makes life worse for ranchers who raise cattle and sheep. 

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