A new, peer-reviewed study by two leading wildlife researchers, Dr. Adrian Treves of the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Carnivore Coexistence Lab, and Guillaume Chapron, a quantitative ecologist at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, is threatening to turn conventional thinking about wolves and wildlife management on its head. The study, titled “Blood does not buy goodwill: allowing culling increases poaching of a large carnivore,” was recently published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, and it casts serious doubt on the claim that hunting or culling wolves releases pressure from locals to kill wolves and reduces poaching. The study is being widely covered in the mainstream press, with extensive examination of its findings in The New York Times and Science.
Treves and Chapron found that programs built around trophy hunting, trapping, and government killing aimed at wolves send the message that these animals don’t have value, and that, in turn, actually causes more poaching and other forms of illegal killing. The presence of these government-sanctioned killing programs reinforce, rather than relieve, attitudes of intolerance toward wolves, and actually foster more killing—precisely the opposite of what the proponents of trophy hunting and culling and the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation have long asserted.
The study’s conclusions align with other research that indicates tolerance is necessary for the long-term conservation of large carnivores, and neither trophy hunting nor widespread predator control programs are acceptable because they signal to people that persecuting carnivores is acceptable. We need to challenge these outdated wildlife management paradigms and aggressively prosecute wolf poachers, and not excuse their behavior as somehow acceptable because the state didn’t give in to their threats of killing or their hyperbolic arguments about the impact of wolves.
All too often, the fate of large predators rests in the hands of those who may not have their best interests in mind. These professional managers have embraced the mindset of the trophy hunting lobby, and it’s reinforced with the commercial relationship built around license sales. They’ve lost their objectivity, and too often amount to procurers of game, rather than protectors of wildlife.
When proposing hunting and trapping in Michigan and other states, trapping and hounding lobby groups made much of the age-old fear and intolerance for wolves in recovery areas, and posited that the “legal take” of wolves—that is, state-licensed and regulated hunting and trapping, or the use of government agents to lethally remove problem animals—would help increase social tolerance of wolf recovery. This, they speculated, would establish wolves as a managed commodity and would deter poaching or illegal killing out of fear or hatred.
But Michigan voters rejected the whole idea of hunting these rare animals and overturned two legislative actions to authorize state-sanctioned killing programs. Subsequently, we won a federal lawsuit that restored protections for wolves in Michigan and also in Minnesota and Wisconsin. In a separate suit, we blocked wolf hunting and trapping in Wyoming.
With this new study, we not only have the moral arguments about the needless killing of inedible animals on our side, but we also have compelling, peer-reviewed science to indicate these ill-intentioned plans are broadly counterproductive. Conventional-minded wildlife managers fail to recognize that human persecution of carnivores causes suffering not only for the individual, but also for their family groups because of the social chaos that ensues. With the loss of mother bears or cougars, or the alpha pair of wolves, the pups, kittens, or cubs may starve. Wolf packs disband, leading to the death of yearling animals. In the case of cougars or bears, with the trophy hunting of the dominant male, there is infanticide from incoming subadult males who kill the kittens and cubs from the previous sire — and sometimes cause the death of the mother animal too. In short, trophy hunting and predator control trigger a cascade of bad consequences for predators.
It is time for a reset in our relationship with predators. This new scientific study of wolves in Michigan and Wisconsin gives us plenty of reason to move in that direction.