Wolf Control Assessment Released
by Cat Urbigkit, Pinedale Online!
October 27, 2015
USDA Wildlife Services (WS) has released an environmental assessment (EA) for Gray Wolf Damage & Conflict Management in Wyoming, and is accepting public comment on the assessment through Nov. 24.
The Wyoming Game & Fish Department (WGFD) and U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) have requested that WS continue its role as an agent of the State for managing wolf conflicts. Any WS wolf conflict management actions would be subject to FWS and WGFD decisions and authorizations and applicable federal, state local and tribal laws and regulations and court rulings.
WS wolf conflict management assistance could be provided on private or public property when:
1) authorized or approved by the USFWS and/or WGFD as appropriate,
2) resource owners/managers request assistance to alleviate wolf conflicts,
3) wolf conflict or threats are verified, and
4) agreements or work plans have been completed specifying the details of the conflict management actions to be conducted.
Depending upon the regulatory status of wolves and applicable management plans and regulations, the types of verified wolf conflicts that could be addressed include: 1) depredation/injury of domestic animals,
2) harassment/threats to domestic animals,
3) property damage, and
4) injury and/or potential threats to human safety (e.g., habituated/bold wolves).
The EA examines three possible alternatives:
• Current Program Alternative (the No Action/Proposed Alternative) which continues the current adaptive wolf conflict management program, with nonlethal methods preferred before lethal actions are taken. This alternative includes limits on wolf conflict management effective while wolves are federally protected under the ESA and managed under the special 10j rules under which the nonessential experimental (XN) populations were reintroduced, and authorizations from the USFWS or WGFD.
Under this alternative, WS would use and/or recommend the full range of legal, practical and effective nonlethal and lethal methods for preventing or reducing wolf conflicts while minimizing any potentially harmful effects of conflict management on humans, wolves, other species and the environment.
• Under a second alternative, WS would only use and provide advice on nonlethal methods for wolf conflict management.
• Under the third alternative considered, WS would not be involved in wolf conflict management in Wyoming.
The limitations on WS actions under the last two alternatives would not prevent the USFWS or WGFD, as appropriate, or property owners from using lethal methods in accordance with applicable federal, state and tribal laws, policies and plans.
The Need for Conflict Management
The need for action in is based on verified wolf depredation, harassment, and threats to livestock, game farm animals and pets, property damage, and risks to human safety from potentially hazardous or threatening wolves or habituated/bold wolves. According to the EA, "The need exists for a prompt, professional, effective program to minimize wolf damage and conflicts and the associated negative attitudes and actions toward wolf conservation. This determination is consistent with the opinion of wolf experts who have asserted that wolf distributions could expand if some form of wolf conflict management were implemented. In addition, one of the primary reasons that wolf conflict management continues to be needed in Wyoming is to comply with the commitment made by the Federal government when wolves were reintroduced. The clear intent of the rules under which wolves were reintroduced (50 CFR 17.84(i)), and subsequent modifications of those rules was not only to provide for the recovery and eventual delisting of wolves, but to also concurrently address the potential damage caused by wolves."
The primary need for action is the need to reduce wolf predation on livestock and domestic animals.
According to the EA, since 2006, the Wyoming and Yellowstone National Park wolf population has stabilized at approximately 300 to 350 wolves.
"FWS believes this largely stable population level and distribution is the result of the wolf population approaching biological carrying capacity, given available suitable habitat."
Although conflicts between wolves and livestock have routinely resulted in the removal of wolves, the Northern Rocky Mountain (NRM) wolf population continues to hold at a level well above recovery goals.
Under the proposed action, (current management), wolf conflict management would only be conducted by WS when a request for assistance is received, the need for action is verified, and applicable authorizations or permits are issued by the FWS, state or tribes, as appropriate.
Lethal or Non-lethal?
"In assessing the effectiveness of various management approaches to dealing with wolf predation on livestock in the NRM, Bangs et al. (2009) concluded that while nonlethal tools were temporarily helpful in some situations, they were generally ineffective, particularly in areas that simply would have too many livestock conflicts for wolf packs to persist. Scaring wolves away from a specific location in an area with high livestock densities simply results in displacement of wolves and killing of livestock in adjacent areas where focused nonlethal efforts are not being employed. Bangs et al. (2009) also concluded that lethal management of problem wolves was usually effective in reducing conflict because it:
1) enhanced effectiveness of nonlethal control measures,
2) interrupted use of livestock as food by surviving wolves,
3) removed offending individuals,
4) reduced wolf density in conflict areas,
5) eliminated packs where chronic livestock depredations had been occurring,
6) helped to keep wolf packs out of unsuitable habitat,
7) made surviving pack members temporarily avoid or be more wary of people and/or areas with livestock,
8) reduced the pack’s overall need for food,
9) made it more difficult for the fewer remaining pack members to kill larger prey like adult cattle or attack calves protected by cows,
10) increased the detection rate of subsequent depredations because livestock carcasses were consumed more slowly (so additional control could
be applied more rapidly),
11) reduced compensation and control costs, and
12) moderated some of the public anger over wolf predation on livestock.
Mech (1995) similarly concluded that in most circumstances, lethal removal of wolves was usually the only practical approach to resolving incidents of wolf predation on livestock."
For those interested in the details, the 161-page EA is full of information, including summaries and citations of scientific literature. The complete EA, and the notice of is availability, is linked below.