May 20, 2019

Wolves and Livestock: The Never Ending Battle

Republication of this article by permission of the author:

Please click on the image to enlarge and read First Page:

FPMuleyCrazyWolf

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Please note that the publisher forgot to include the following editor’s addendum:

“Since Dr. Kay submitted the manuscript for this article, a federal court in Washington, D.C. has put Wyoming wolves back on the Endangered Species List. That decision has been appealed, but as of now, wolf hunting is NOT permitted in Wyoming.”

*Editor’s Note* – I apologize for having to present this article in the manner in which I did. Due to file upload restricts, I was unable to offer the entire article in one PDF document. I had to break it down into individual pages.

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Presenting History by Fraud

In a report filed by Fox News, Erik Molvar, who runs environmental group Wild Earth Guardians’ campaign to save the sage grouse, said, “In the 1800’s there were probably more than 16 million of these birds.

Dr. Charles Kay, a wildlife ecologist at Utah State University, responds in part to that claim and issues surrounding the listing of the sage grouse for Endangered Species Act protection, “It is… ANTI-SCIENCE, as virtually all studies on minimum population size and population viability analysis have concluded that a population of 7,500 animals is in little or no danger of extinction—–with a minimum of 200,000 birds ,THE SPECIES SHOULD NOT EVEN BE COSIDERED———As to the 16 million figure…—–it is FRAUD———–TRUE, the population has been declining since the 1950’s—–DUE TO INCREASED PREDATION WITH THE ELIMINATION OF THE SHEEP INDUSTRY, which once practiced predator control——the same applies to the decline of mule deer. Protect the predators and then declare the bird endangered——–WHAT A SCAM !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!———As you and I both know, since we are the only people ,who have studied all the first-person journals of exploration in western NA in detail, sage grouse were NOT COMMON HISTORICALLY—-and they only increased after wide-spread predator control—–and after sagebrush INCREASED due to over-grazing and the elimination of land-management fires SET BY NATIVE PEOPLE.”

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Dr. Charles Kay: Longterm Vegetation Change in Utah’s Henry Mountain: A Study in Repeat Photography

KayMtHenryFrom Dr. Kay:

“The final report on my repeat photo research in Utah’s Henry Mountains has now been published by BLM. In all, I repeated 608 photographs and over 100 plates are included in the final report. As this is a BLM report, everyone is free to download it, print it off, or to send it on to others. As explained in the report, range conditions have improved markedly since the early 1900’s and riparian areas have recovered despite continued livestock grazing. Soil erosion also has declined and there is no evidence that current livestock grazing is having any major impact on plant communities. This is especially true of woody riparian vegetation along the Fremont River inside Capitol Reef National Park compared to native woody species from the park boundary all the way downstream to Hanksville. Moreover, there is no evidence in any of the earliest photos that large-scale crown fires historically occurred in either pinyon-juniper or coniferous forests in the Henry Mountain Study area——such as the 2003 Bulldog fire that charred 32,000A. Since aboriginal-set fires ceased ca. 1870, forest fuels, including P/J , conifers, and other woody species, have increased, setting the stage for future high-intensity burns.

In closing, I would like to thank Doug Page for providing the GIS maps that appear in the final report, as well as the photo mosaics of the panoramic photosets.”

ABSTRACT:

An extensive search was conducted of archival and other sources to locate as many historical photographs as possible for the Henry Mountains in south-central Utah. Those images were then taken into the field, the original camera stations relocated, and modern pictures made of the historical scenes to evaluate long-term vegetation change and land management activities. In all, 626 repeat-photosets were compiled – 608 by the author and 18 by Earl Hindley. As might be expected, most photosets contained more than one vegetation type. Grasslands were depicted in 152 photosets, sagebrush in 99, pinyon-juniper in 293, mountain brush in 72, aspen in 37, conifers in 145, blackbrush in 71, and woody riparian species in 142. In addition, all photosets were evaluated for plant cover and whether or not the sites showed accelerated soil erosion.

In general, grasslands, sagebrush and aspen have declined, while blackbrush, mountain brush, pinyon-juniper, and conifers increased. Utah’s rangelands are generally in much better condition today than they were during the early 1900s because plant cover has increased and soil erosion has declined. Repeat photos also show that woody riparian vegetation has significantly increased whether or not livestock have been excluded. Contrary to popular perception, coniferous trees and forests are more abundant today than at any point in the past. In fact, the overriding problem on most Utah rangelands has been a major increase in woody plants which, in turn, has dramatically reduced forage production for both livestock and wildlife. As conifers, including pinyon-juniper, have increased so have forest fuels setting the stage for large-scale, high-intensity crown fires, a type of fire behavior that seldom, if ever, occurred in the past. As judged by stand age and forest conditions seen in early photographs, large stand-clearing fires are outside the normal range of historical variability. Historically, frequent, low-intensity surface fires, most likely set by Native Americans, kept most conifers from increasing.

*To view and/or download a copy of this report follow this link.

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Picking and Defining What’s Wild for Purpose

“The notion that America was “wild” when Europeans found it is more than a little racist; it assumes that Indians didn’t act like humans everywhere else did by changing their environment. Native Americans weren’t Ur-hippies taking only photos — or I guess drawings — and leaving only footprints. They cultivated plants, cleared forests with extensive burning to boost the population of desired animals, and otherwise altered the landscape in ways that may have seemed natural to newcomers but were nonetheless profound. As biologist Charles Kay observes, “Native Americans were the ultimate keystone species, and their removal has completely altered ecosystems . . . throughout North America.””<<<Read More>>>

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Wolves Cannot be a Keystone Predator And Not Have an Effect on Ungulates

wolvestwoI recently received a copy of a brand new article that had been published in Muley Crazy Magazine, that was written by Dr. Charles Kay. The title of the article is, “Keystone Predation and Trophic Cascades.” What a brilliant piece of work, I must say. Most brilliant because not only does Kay simply and effectively explain what a keystone predator is, along with trophic cascade, but points out the overuse, perhaps ignorantly and incorrectly, of the term “keystone predator.”

Kay explains in his article that many talk of how wolves are a keystone predator and have created a trophic cascade (more on this in a moment) wherever they are present. He references Yellowstone National Park as an example.

In explaining to readers what keystone predation and trophic cascade are, he used the example of sea otters, kelp forests and urchins along the northern California coast. There exists kelp forests, where, for one thing, small fish use to nourish themselves and seek a degree of protection from larger fish. Urchins eat kelp and sea otters eat urchins. This condition is explained by Kay as a “trophic pyramid”, with the otter on top and the kelp on the bottom.

Uncontrolled hunting by man killed off most of the otters, causing the urchin population to grow, which in turn destroyed much of the kelp forests and yes the disappearance of a fishery. With the efforts of humans, a few surviving otters were returned to the area and with ample prey, the urchin, the otters soon reestablish. With otters reducing the number of urchins, the kelp forests return and in turn the fishery came back also. Dr. Kay says this, “is what is called a cascading trophic effect, where what happens at one trophic level impacts what takes place at other trophic levels.”

In the case of the sea otter, Kay says that, “a keystone predator is a keystone predator only because predation causes a major reduction in the herbivore population, which then causes a major rebound in the associated plant community.”

So, then, is a wolf a keystone predator? By definition a keystone predator, like the sea otter, reduces its prey to levels that have a significant effect on that ecosystem. In my opinion, wolf advocates and others – Dr. Kay lists them: Media, public, judges – wrongly use the term “keystone” in order to make people believe that because it is KEYstone, the ecosystem could not survive without them. As Kay so aptly points out, the wolf sponsors can’t have it both ways; be a keystone predator and NOT reduce significantly its prey species. Since the beginning of the debate about wolves, prior to introduction, the clap trap was readily repeated that wolves will not have any significant impact on its prey species, i.e. deer, elk, moose. However, we are seeing the results of this “keystone” predator, where in places the wolf has roamed and flourished, prey populations have shrunk out of sight.

For decades, where the environmentalists have gone wrong, is their insistence that man was not factored into the role as a keystone predator. This is where Dr. Kay explains that while the sea otter, wolf, bear, mountain lion, etc. may be keystone predators, they are not necessarily THE keystone predator. That title is rightfully placed on the shoulders of man and has been there since the beginning of man’s existence on the planet.

Dr. Kay’s article goes to great lengths in explaining the history of the role of Native Americans as THE keystone predators. His work in establishing time lines, geographical locations and availability of wild game of Lewis and Clark and other explorers, shows where and in what abundance game animals existed and why. It’s not what our education institutions have taught us.

In one’s dishonest effort to protect any species of keystone predator, they cannot claim it to be a keystone predator, for the sake of placing importance and glorification, while at the same time making bold statements that these “keystone” predators will not have any measurable effect on the prey species and ecosystem. Simply by definition, this is ludicrous. It’s as ludicrous as thinking that man can somehow be removed from the entire equation and then everything will be nirvana.

Dr. Kay explains that in reality, if those humans who want Yellowstone National Park to be brought back to its, “natural condition”, then we, “simply need to add native people.”

Kay ends his article with this statement: “As a rule, carnivores did not kill and eat aboriginal people. Instead, aboriginal people killed and ate carnivores, especially bears, making them the ultimate keystone predator.”

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The Mythical Magic of the Much Maligned Mutt (Wolf)

Perhaps not since Franklin Roosevelt has so much credit been given a person or thing for accomplishing things they never did or did and messed them up. Once again people calling themselves scientific researchers are crediting the existence of grey wolves in Yellowstone for helping to increase the grizzly bear population. This supposedly is being accomplished because wolves keep the elk from eating the berry plants. Information on this “study” can be found at Science World Report.

It appears that not all scientists are impressed with the conclusions drawn by the researchers conducting the berry bear study. As a matter of fact, Dr. Charles Kay, Ph.D. Wildlife Ecology, Jon M. Huntsman School of Business, says that, “YNP [Yellowstone National Park] bear research/management has been and is a scientific FRAUD!”

And as anyone who has come to know the work of Dr. Kay, he doesn’t spout off without providing the documentation to support his own claims. First, is a copy of a recent email Dr. Kay sent to a number of readers about the berry bear study and links to his own research and information on the subject. Please feel free to educate yourself.

Dr. Kay’s email:

… please see the attached pdf file[s] I doubt that Ripple et al. ever had an original idea in their lives – as explained in the attached article[s], I was the first researcher to measure berry production in YNP, as well as the first to note that YNP’s bears did NOT eat berries – unlike every other bear population that has been studied anywhere. This is because elk had destroyed all the berry producing shrubs in the park. All this, of course, has been completely ignored by IAGBST biologists for over 40 years – which is why YNP bear research/management has been and is a scientific FRAUD!

In 1491 you could count the number of grizzlies in North America on one or two hands, because grizzlies were simply large packages of fat meat that native hunters killed AT WILL. There are more grizzlies in NA today than there were in 1491 – a FACT I can prove.

Please see section 13 of the second pdf file, and Figure 8f in the third pdf file

Charles

Charles E. Kay, Ph.D. Wildlife Ecology
Jon M. Huntsman School of Business

Yellowstone: Ecological Malpractice by Charles E. Kay June 1997

Browsing by native ungulates effects on shrub and seed in greater Yellowstone By Charles E. Kay

Were Native People Keystone Predators?

A Continuous-Time Analysis of Wildlife Observations Made by Lewis and Clark in 1804-1806

by Charles E. Kay January–March 2007 Canadian Field-Naturalist 121

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In Spite of Directors’ Claims, Idaho Fish and Game Refuses to Control Wolves Decimating Elk Herds

Republished on this website with permission from the editor/author.

The Outdoorsman – Bulletin Number 51, Dec. 2012 – April 17, 2013 Pgs. 1-3.

In Spite of Directors’ Claims, Idaho Fish and Game Refuses to Control Wolves Decimating Elk Herds

by George Dovel

In January 1999 I attended a predator symposium in Boise co-sponsored by the Idaho Outfitters and Guides Assn., Idaho Dept. of Fish and Game and eight other groups. Like many of the 17 panel members whose unsupported testimony claimed wolves would have limited impact on deer, elk and moose numbers, Wolf Education Center’s David Langhorst claimed poachers kill 10 times as much game as wolves do.

But Wildlife Ecologist Dr. Charles Kay provided facts to support his testimony – that the wolves transplanted from Canada would eventually drive Idaho’s already declining big game populations into a predator pit.

Beginning with his August 1993 Petersen’s Hunting article titled, “Wolves in the West – what the government does not want you to know about wolf recovery,” Dr. Kay had published extensive research exposing federal and many state biologists’ false claim that protecting wolves would create healthy game populations.

Biologist Can’t Refute Facts – Attacks Messenger

Unable to refute any of Dr. Kay’s expert testimony, one biologist publicly confronted him and implied that his testimony was not valid because he was not a biologist.

But Dr. Kay snapped back at him, “I’d be ashamed to admit it if I was, the way you biologists have destroyed our wildlife.”

Pretending that a simple degree in wildlife biology bestows the wisdom, integrity and judgment needed to recommend real solutions ignores reality. And attacking the credibility of the messenger is a tactic used by those who lack facts to defend their position.

These two observations are based on half a century of working alongside and closely observing wildlife biologists. Deceiving the citizen hunters who pay their wages has become a specialty with most of them.

Geist – Wolves Caused ~90% Decline in Deer Harvest

But like Dr. Kay, Dr. Valerius Geist, the featured speaker at the 1999 Symposium, strived to enlighten rather than deceive. He spent a couple of hours patiently explaining to those in attendance how the return of wolves to Vancouver Island resulted in nearly a 90% decline in the number of black-tailed deer harvested each year by hunters.

He warned the audience that strict control of wolf numbers in Idaho must occur to prevent a similar decline in Idaho big game populations. IDFG Director Steve Mealy, who was the Symposium facilitator, summed up the consensus that wolf predation is largely additive and wolves must be limited to preserve healthy game populations.

Despite being provided ample opportunity to question Dr. Geist, Idaho biologists and Commissioners remained quiet. Yet a group of them confronted me a few minutes later and said, “He told us what was going to happen but he didn’t tell us what to do.”

Two months later, Mealey was fired by a 4-to-3 vote, and replaced with a series of pro-wolf Directors. But on Jan. 5 2006 Interior Secretary Gale Norton signed an agreement with Idaho Gov. Dirk Kempthorne designating Idaho to act as its agent, and directing IDFG to “implement lethal control or translocation of wolves to reduce impacts on wild ungulates in accordance with the process outlined in the amended 10J Rule.” (emphasis added)

That was seven years ago and during those seven years, IDFG has had the authority and the duty to lethally control wolves to reduce their impact on elk, moose and deer – either using the 10J Rule with the 2002 Wolf Plan as a guide – or following the 2002 Wolf Plan during the two periods, including now, when the wolves were/are delisted.

So How Many Total Wolves Has Idaho Lethally Controlled to Reduce the Impact on Wild Ungulates During the Past Seven Years?

The answer is only nineteen – all in the Lolo Zone.

That 19, plus the few wolves harvested by hunters and outfitters in the Lolo Zone, failed to halt the dramatic annual decline in its elk population and harvest. Yet in the following exchange of communications dated Jan. 21, 2013, Moore tells Viola sportsman Jim Hagedorn that many people have simply not been exposed to the Department “science” on managing wolf predation on Idaho’s elk.

TV Interviewed Moore, Stone – Ignored Citizens

On Jan. 17, 2013 KTVB published interviews with IDFG Director Moore and Defenders of Wildlife wolf promoter Suzanne Stone at IDFG Headquarters in Boise. Moore said hunters have done a good job controlling wolves in farm and ranch areas, but said wolves are increasing and further reducing elk populations in back country areas “like the Clearwater, Lolo and Selway.”

He announced the F&G Commission had removed $50,000 from a research project and directed it to be spent killing and trapping wolves in remote areas like these. Of course Stone disagreed and said the $50,000 should be spent on non-lethal methods which she falsely claimed were more effective than lethal control.

As always happens in the urban media, KTVB ignored the majority of Idaho citizens who share ownership of the wildlife resource, and the multi-million dollar loss the exploitation of that resource by both Moore and Stone is costing them every year. This understandably upset Viola sportsman leader Jim Hagedorn who, along with many others, contributes a great deal of time and money seeking honest scientific wildlife management.

On Jan. 20, the following letter from Hagedorn to Director Moore appeared in the Forever Free Press:

A direct question for Virgil Moore:

“[IDFG’s] job is actually to conserve wolves,” says Suzanne Stone with Defenders of Wildlife. “We propose that commission use the money for non-lethal tools that are more effective in reducing livestock losses, and certainly more effective in reducing the impact on wildlife, including wolves,” Stone said.

“Moore says he’s putting together opportunities for advocates like Stone to talk to Fish and Game biologists about their management techniques.”

Director Moore, would you please explain to me why you would waste your time, your IDFG employees’ time, and MY MONEY, by opening a channel of communication to your (or MY) employees so a clearly deranged individual (Stone) who can NEVER seem to get her facts straight with the media, or anyone else for that matter, can have ANYTHING to do with advising FISH and GAME management in Idaho?
——

The following day, Hagedorn emailed a copy to Moore and to several legislators, commissioners and other knowledgeable individuals. The subject line said simply, “How about an answer Virgil?

He quickly received the following response from Moore:

Jim,
I decided to go over the science that wolves are important predators to elk. Based on the testimony at the Commission meeting last week by 16 individuals it is apparent to the Commission that many people simply have not been exposed to the Department science on managing predation on Idaho’s elk. The meeting with folks concerned about our wolf reduction efforts is to allow a more in-depth opportunity to present Department information and answer questions that could not be addressed at the public meeting.

Ms. Stone is looking for an opportunity to do more of the non-lethal management that has been tried in the Blain (sic) County area. It certainly will not work for wildlife depredation and does not work in most livestock grazing situations either. Her statements do not represent what we are trying to accomplish by providing the correct information on hunting, trapping and aerial methods of reducing wolf numbers.

Jim – I believe some of these folks can be moderated by the correct information based on my discussion with some of them at the Commission meeting- as they do not have the correct information to judge the Department program properly. I do not believe, as you do, that Defenders of Wildlife can be convinced though but the discussion of what we are planning is open to public discussion and public input and we do have an obligation to meet with folks when appropriate.

I hope this helps. Let me know if we need to talk and I’ll give you a call.

Virgil
——

The Facts

The Department “science” on managing wolf predation of elk is a myth.

Every authority on wolf-ungulate management – including L. David Mech – who has advised IDFG on this issue, has warned that 70-80% of wolves must be removed initially, and the reduced numbers maintained for at least five years in order to restore healthy ungulate populations.

When the Lolo elk herd was still estimated at about 4,000 animals, IDFG biologists carefully prepared a 10J Plan to lethally remove 75% of the wolves from the Lolo Zone the first year, and kill enough wolves for the next four years to maintain 20-30% of the original number. But instead of implementing the plan to rebuild the Lolo elk herd, the Commission voted to use it only as “leverage” (i.e. blackmail) to FWS to insure they would be allowed to manage wolves as game animals.

They got the “on again – off again” right to hold a wolf hunting season but hunters killed only 13 Lolo wolves and the Lolo elk population went down the tube. Anyone who takes the time to compare IDFG’s published annual elk harvest statistics will find that elk harvests have also nose-dived every year in all back country units since the Commission approved the 10J plan – but refused to use it.

And Moore’s promise to the Commissioners and the public when he was hired as Director two years ago that he would also implement wolf control in 2011 in the Selway and other units where wolves were also impacting elk – was never kept. Between 2006 and 2011, both of Moore’s predecessors, Steve Huffaker and Cal Groen, made similar promises that were also never kept.

It is worth noting that at the same time former Director Steve Mealey was telling a packed Commission Meeting audience that wolves were having a detrimental effect on Idaho elk herds, his Wildlife Bureau Chief Huffaker was standing in the back of that room telling a reporter that wolves had co-evolved with elk for ten thousand years and would “reach a balance” without man’s interference.

In February of 2006 when the IDFG plan to remove 75% of the Lolo Zone wolves was being “scoped” by the public, a letter writing campaign by radical pro-wolf groups supplied then Director Huffaker with the excuses he needed to convince the Commission not to control the wolves.

A Feb. 14, 2006 letter from Tami Williams of Wolf Haven International at Tenino, Washington, reminded Huffaker of the large cost of paying (Wildlife Services) to control 75% of the Lolo wolves. She speculated IDFG would get a hunting season if it waited and said, “With patience, wolf control could end up as a revenue generator rather than a revenue drain for IDFG.”

Instead of obeying Idaho Wildlife Policy in I.C. Sec. 36-103 (to preserve, protect, perpetuate and manage all wildlife), Huffaker and his biologists chose to listen to the wolf advocates and sacrifice the Lolo elk herd. Large Carnivore Coordinator Steve Nadeau prepared a 2006 10J wolf control plan claiming that declining habitat – not over-harvesting and later wolf predation – was the primary cause of the elk decline.

Nadeau’s lie ignored Clearwater elk research biologist George Pauley’s long-term and well documented research concluding that allowing hunters to kill too many bull elk was the cause of the steady decline in Lolo elk from 1986 – 2005. Read “IDFG – No Evidence Links Lolo Elk Loss to Habitat!” on Pages 6-8 of Outdoorsman No. 40.

Ignoring Pauley’s 1996 warning to stop over-harvesting bull elk, Clearwater Region Supervisor Herb Pollard increased the number of 1996 antlerless elk permits in the Lolo Zone from 350 to 1,900! In Dec. of 1996 when Steve Mealey was hired as IDFG Director, he replaced Pollard with Natural Resources Policy Director Cal Groen to halt the deliberate over-harvest.

But in 1997, Groen reduced the 1,900 antlerless permits by only 50 and changed 525 permits so hunts would end on Nov. 30 instead of Nov. 13. See results of Pollard’s and Groen’s mismanagement in harvest chart below:

elkharvestidaho

The 2006 10J wolf control plan could easily have been corrected by replacing Nadeau’s false claims with Pauley’s facts, and then submitting it to FWS. But even two years later, in 2008, IDFG Director Groen and F&G Commissioner Gary Power told the Legislature and the media that IDFG had no intention of controlling wolves in Idaho’s wilderness areas.

The appointment of Groen to the Governor’s staff in 2007 was apparently seen as an opportunity for IDFG to ignore Idaho law and the Legislature. Groen’s direction to Nadeau, to write an IDFG Wolf Plan containing massive changes to the only wolf plan approved by the Legislature, and Groen’s failure to transmit that plan for legislative approval or rejection, reflects his willingness to ignore state law and the welfare of Idaho wildlife.

The IDFG conspiracy that bypassed the lawful process and resulted in Groen, Otter and Otter’s Office of Species Conservation telling FWS Director Dale Hall that IDFG will manage for five times as many wolves as agreed to in the FWS Recovery Plan, happened without public or legislative input.

Idaho’s 2002 wolf plan emphasizes several times on pages 21 and 23 how extremely important it is for IDFG to conduct an annual census of selected important prey species. The Lolo Zone elk met every criterion for annual monitoring – yet in the 11 years since that plan was approved by the Legislature – IDFG has conducted only two counts in Unit 10 and three counts in Unit 12!

And when Nadeau wrote the bastard wolf plan in 2007 – approved unanimously by the F&G Commission on March 6, 2008 – the “annual count” language was changed to once every three to five years, plus it allowed biologists to wait another three years before taking any action! On May 22, 2008 Groen gave Nadeau an “Employee of the Year” Award for “outstanding management/leadership.”

In February of 2009, Pauley met with Montana sportsmen and the media and said there were 130-150 wolves in the Lolo Zone. He advised that the State of Idaho was making a request to shoot about 80% (104-120) of them, and would leave a minimum of 25 wolves.

Although Pauley said the 10J proposal would be presented to FWS shortly and Unsworth confirmed it, neither had any intention of controlling wolves. This was simply designed to show hard core wolf advocates they had better not oppose delisting or IDFG would kill 100 wolves in one location.

Even after Senator Jeff Siddoway forced IDFG to commit to control Lolo Zone wolves during the 2011-2012 winter, Deputy Director Unsworth ordered the helicopter control halted on the third day despite ideal conditions. Only 14 wolves were taken in that brief control action and Wildlife Services told me I would have to talk to Unsworth to find out why. The wolf control figures Unsworth claimed would reduce big game predation in the Lolo Zone were far too low to have any measurable impact.

Note: This article and many more like it can be found in The Outdoorsman magazine. Please click this link to a PDF page where you can print out a form and subscribe to the magazine. The work of George Doval, editor of The Outdoorsman, is arguably the finest work to be found anywhere in print or online publications.

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Debunk: Predators Kill Only Lame, Sick and Weak Prey Species

I have finally found a written explanation about predator/prey relationships that is easy to sink your teeth into and understand and written by an authority on the subject; Dr. Charles Kay, Wildlife Ecology-Range Management Specialist Utah State University. His article can be found in Muley Crazy Magazine, Jan./Feb. Edition 2013.

Anyone paying any attention to the emotional debates about large predators – wolves and coyotes seem to carry the most irrational emotions – have heard someone, even those supposedly who are authorities, say that wolves/coyotes/large predators are necessary for our ecosystems because they kill only the lame, sick, weak and/or substandard members of the prey species. With the mindless perpetuation of such drivel, we are also told this “sanitary” engineering by predators provides for “healthy” prey species, some even claiming this natural phenomenon limits and reduces certain wildlife diseases because these predators are killing the sick among the prey.

I have always contended that if large predators were intelligent enough to determine the sickly of the species, why aren’t they equally intelligent to pick a good meal rather than one that might taste bad and be full of worms and disease? But I guess maybe that’s another discussion.

What studies that do exist, clearly show that large predators kill their prey/food depending upon several factors, none of which are the result of a predator recognizing they have a sick animal on their hands. Factors include: How easy it is for predators to kill their prey species under normal conditions; the size and killing ability of the predator versus the size and defense capabilities of the prey; how the predator hunts and environmental conditions. Seriously, is this something new? Of course not.

Dr. Kay explains that any prey species that is easily captured and killed, there is no difference in the proportionate killing of healthy vs. ill prey species. As the size and defense capabilities of the predator animal increases, the incidence of prey killed increases mostly do to a reduction of defensive capability.

Kay uses an example of lynx in Europe that will feed on both roe deer and red deer. He explains that roe deer, “are less than half the size of mule deer, while red deer are the same species as our elk.” Roe deer are easier to catch for the lynx and kill without evidence of taking a disproportionate number of sick roe deer. As far as the red deer are concerned, because the animal is bigger and more difficult to catch and take down, lynx tend to target red deer calves in disproportionate numbers to the overall red deer population. A bigger predator, such as a wolf, isn’t choosy between roe deer and red deer and will take either species that is available when hunted with little or no regard to seeking out a sick member of the herd.

All predators hunt differently; some are ambush hunters, some are stalkers that run down their prey, for examples. An ambush hunter isn’t particular or concerned over whether an animal is sick or lame. Essentially they have one shot at their prey, healthy or not. On the other hand, a predator, like a wolf or coyote, track down their prey, sometimes running them down, or perhaps surrounding their target. In this case, opportunism will likely afford the predator a better chance at catching up to and killing a sick or lame prey species. This only makes sense.

As any good scientist would do, Dr. Kay points out information he provided in other research work written about in “Predation and the Ecology of Fear” [see Muley Crazy 10(5): 23-28; 2010]. In this work and subsequent reporting, Kay points out that often times the substandard prey species can become this way due to harassment by predators and humans. Predators torment and harass prey species constantly. Battle weary prey animals then become an easier target and thus the ill health mythology exploited by the predator protectors is not so because it is caused by natural conditions such as physical defects and disease.

And if predators, such as wolves, exist for the function of killing only the lame, diseased and infirm of prey animals, while yielding us a “healthy” ecosystem, how does one explain surplus killing? Surplus killing, which is readily recorded, is when wolves move into a herd of prey and just kill everything they can until they have had enough killing, for no apparent reason than to kill. Some think of it as a learning adventure for the immature dogs in the pack. What I can tell you is that those who protect predators will deny that surplus killing is real.

Depending upon the region in which predator and prey relationships are being examined, one can find many environmental conditions that will effect a predator’s ability to hunt and a prey’s ability to defend themselves or escape. Deep and crusty snow comes to mind, as often prey species such as deer and moose, that use running as an escape, cannot flee so easily and wolves and coyotes easily run them down.

Dr. Kay also debunks the notions that large predators are good to limit or reduce wildlife disease because they pick on the sick prey and not the healthy. He points out that, “Wolf predation has not lowered the incidence of brucellosis in elk within the Yellowstone ecosystem.” Also, “In Canada’s Wood Buffalo National Park, bison are infected with both brucellosis and bovine tuberculosis. Yet more than 50 years of wolf predation has not lowered the incidence of either disease.” Again, “Cape buffalo are preyed upon by African lions and spotted hyenas, both formidable predators, yet predation has not slowed the spread of bovine tuberculosis in Kruger’s cape buffalo population.” Finally, “predation by black bears, mountain lions, and coyotes has not slowed the spread of chronic wasting disease.”

In addition to revealing that predation is not changing the incidences of disease, Dr. Kay tells his readers that some predators, such as wolves and coyotes, carry more than 30 diseases that they are infecting ungulate populations with, and creating for potential harm and possible death to humans. Certainly a predator spreading so many diseases cannot and is not making for a healthy prey population, but an unhealthy one.

Proper control of predators is the proven and scientific method of keeping healthy prey and predator species, not some myth that these predators are like trained physicians making house calls to keep all their food supply healthy. Let’s not pretend.

It is certainly one thing to want to protect your favorite wild animal but at what expense? Do we risk the health of humans while hiding behind some notion that predators are sanitation engineers? As Dr. Kay says, “the next time some wolf biologist or pro-wolf advocate tries to tell you that predators only kill the lame, the sick, and the infirm, or that predators help control disease, listen politely, or not, and then have a good laugh! What you do next is up to you, but remember, the federal government has warned all its employees, who normally handle wolves or wolf scat, about Echincoccus granulosus, but has yet to pass a similar warning on to the general public.”

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My Maine Hunting Trip Revealed a Predator Pit

This year marked the 37th year of Maine hunting camp, hunting from the same old camp and in the same location as I have for the duration. I believe that what I am now witnessing in this location is a classic predator pit.

Four things must occur to create a dreaded predator pit. In brief they are:

1.) Denial that predators are having an effect on deer herds. This cannot be disputed as Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (MDIFW) officials continue to insist that even though they acknowledge the presence of predators, i.e. coyotes, bears, bobcat and lynx, they blame any loss of deer mostly on weather and loss of habitat. And I will once again beat the old drum and ask, if it’s loss of habitat then why are many of our deer wintering areas not filled with deer?

2.) Over protection of predators; often the result of fear created by relentless lawsuits by environmentalists and animals rights groups. With protection of predators, populations of those predators grows too large. More predators means more mouths to feed which in turn means a greater loss of deer. Consider the fear of MDIFW and the Maine Guides Association over implementing a spring bear hunt out of fear of another lawsuit. Consider the lawsuits concerning the Canada lynx that has put a huge dent in trappers’ ability to take coyotes in order to curb growth.

3.) With denial by wildlife officials that predators seriously can affect deer herds and predators being protected for various reasons, deer herds begin to plummet. And even with the decrease in deer, officials continue to deny what the real problem might be, still allowing for predator protection and with the drop in deer numbers, hunters are getting fewer and fewer opportunities to take deer. Maine has seen serious opportunities taken away with the ban on taking antlerless deer in most all of northern, eastern and parts of western Maine and an overall reduction in Any-Deer Permits statewide.

4.) On the verge of a classic predator pit. With steps 1-3 in place, Maine or at least in areas such as the area I have hunted for 37 years, likely needs more than just overblown populations of predators to cause a predator pit. Too much hunting, could bring the deer herd to dangerously low levels. I don’t think MDIFW has done this although I do believe that had they been on top of deer management better than they have, they would have reduced or eliminated Any-Deer Permits much earlier than they did.

Another event could be a complete destruction of habitat, which in my opinion does not exist but only perhaps in some pockets…..although that claim will be disputed. I know in my area of hunting, there is excellent habitat for deer with nearby wintering areas.

A third major event may be a severe winter or perhaps two or more of them back to back. Maine had those and I will not dispute the fact that those back to back severe winters took it’s toll on the deer herd and this holds true where I hunt.

What we have in place now are an overgrown and over protected population of predators, and a severely reduced population of deer. Dr. Charles Kay, a top wildlife ecologist in the U.S. today and an Adjunct Assistant Professor and a Senior Research Scientist at Utah State University, explained the perils of the dreaded predator pit this way:

If ungulate populations have been reduced by severe weather, human over-exploitation, or other causes, wolves and other predators can drive ungulate numbers even lower and maintain them at that level. This condition is called a predator pit and there is no field evidence that ungulates can escape from a predator pit even if hunting is banned, unless wolves and other predators are reduced by direct management actions, i.e. predator control.

Even though this year at hunting camp, I saw and heard far fewer indications of coyotes, there still exists bear and bobcat. In some areas where I hunt, I witnessed signs of a bit more deer activity but this is typical of a predator pit. I believe the numbers will never rebound until predator numbers are reduced. A full week of hunting by 6-8 hunters produced the sighting of 2 deer. That’s pathetic! In addition, it is safe to say the area is not over hunted. The entire week we saw two other hunters in the area.

Read more about predator pits.

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