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Grizzly bears, black bears, wolves, coyotes, cougars/ mountain lions,bobcats, wolverines, lynx, foxes, fishers and martens are the suite of carnivores that originally inhabited North America after the Pleistocene extinctions. This site invites research, commentary, point/counterpoint on that suite of native animals (predator and prey) that inhabited The Americas circa 1500-at the initial point of European exploration and subsequent colonization. Landscape ecology, journal accounts of explorers and frontiersmen, genetic evaluations of museum animals, peer reviewed 20th and 21st century research on various aspects of our "Wild America" as well as subjective commentary from expert and layman alike. All of the above being revealed and discussed with the underlying goal of one day seeing our Continent rewilded.....Where big enough swaths of open space exist with connective corridors to other large forest, meadow, mountain, valley, prairie, desert and chaparral wildlands.....Thereby enabling all of our historic fauna, including man, to live in a sustainable and healthy environment. - Blogger Rick

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Sunday, April 8, 2012

Pat Valkenburg of the Wallowa Chieftain newspaper provides his perspective on Wolves impact on prey animals in our 21st Century Western USA........He zeros in on human population expansion and hunter expectations as two of the most critical factors as to ultimate wolf populations in the West.............While his article angles in from the lens of the hunter, Valenburg does conclude that the best chances for Wolf expansion lie in human willingness to buy and protect large tracts of wild land........In essence, "save it(land),,,,,,and the Wolves, Pumas and Griz will do the rest..............

Wolf Predation on Big Game
 What to expect in the Rocky Mountain West
wallowa chieftain
By Pat Valkenburg
In a previous column I briefly described what we know about wolf predation in the part of the world where it has been most studied – Alaska and Canada, where biologists have spent 30 years and millions of dollars in research on natural populations of moose, caribou, wolves, and bears, and where many management experiments have been conducted.

Because ecosystems in the western states are even more complex than in Alaska and northern Canada, it will likely take more decades and millions more dollars to understand the effects of wolves on elk, deer, and other species. It will never be possible to study all situations to everyone's satisfaction, especially when potentially controversial management programs are proposed. Every mountain range and valley will be different. More than ever, the knowledge and experience gained by professional biologists who have lived and worked in an area for many years will be the most useful asset that wildlife management agencies and the public possess

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In trying to predict the effects of wolves on big game populations in the West, and how hunting will be affected, it is important to keep in mind that the return of the wolf is not the only factor that is changing. In several states, grizzly bears and cougars are also increasing in numbers and expanding their ranges, and coyotes, cougars, and black bears are already known to be significant predators of elk and deer fawns, and big horn sheep are often hit very hard by cougar predation.

There are changing land use patterns in the West as well. Many large ranches are being broken up, taken out of production, and converted to housing areas. Wolves will be another predator added to a complex, changing ecosystem, and the general increase in predation, along with other changes, will mean less opportunity for hunters in many areas. Compared with other more solitary predators, wolves present special considerations, and in some areas where they will likely become the dominant predator, effects on opportunity for hunters will be significant.

Most people have probably heard that wolves kill mostly the weak and sick from game populations. Our experience in Alaska with moose and caribou, and the experience of most biologists worldwide is that this is generally true. Wolves are very good at picking out old, slow, arthritic, or injured animals and they kill relatively few prime-aged animals, except in some circumstances. However, year in and year out, much of the mortality from wolf predation can be expected to be additive. In other words, it will be in addition to the mortality that already exists, so wildlife managers will have to compensate by reducing the hunters' share when wolf predation becomes a factor. Partly, this is because wolves are also very good at killing large numbers of calves, especially where calving is concentrated, as it is in some elk populations.
In addition, unlike cougars and bears, wolves commonly kill more than they can consume when hunting is easy because of deep snow or other factors that cause prey to be especially vulnerable. Most adult ungulates will survive bad winters and recover their health if they are not killed by predators. If wolves are present, many more will die during bad winters. Wolves will also quickly learn to use things like fences to make their hunting easier.

Because of their social system, wolf numbers can increase rapidly when there is an abundance of vulnerable prey, and then wolf predation can be high for several years. Detailed studies using radio-collared animals and ultrasound scans of all females in a pack have demonstrated that about 75 percent of all adult female wolves (18 months and older) are pregnant every year in the wild. In many cases, only the litter of the dominant female is supported by the pack and the pups produced by subordinates die. However, if the dominant female dies between the breeding season (February) and the denning season (May), or if food is abundant, the pack will raise the litter (or litters) of the subordinate female(s).

Sometimes subordinate females disperse, find mates, and form a new pack. This is referred to by biologists as "budding." New packs can also form by "splitting," when very large packs (usually of at least 10 animals) divide. For all these reasons, wolves can increase much more rapidly than solitary predators like cougars and bears. In many areas wolf numbers will likely increase rapidly after bad winters and wolves will then tend to prevent deer and elk from recovering when weather returns to normal.

Physiologically, wolves need a large quantity of meat to sustain them, especially in winter. In Alaska, biologists have estimated that if wolves are feeding on nothing but caribou, approximately 20-25 caribou will be killed per wolf per year (not counting young calves). If they are feeding on moose exclusively, each wolf needs about 7-9 moose per year. For elk, that number is likely to be about 10-15.

In forested areas, where there are high numbers of cougars and/or bears, and where it is already difficult for biologists to monitor elk numbers, wolves will likely drive elk numbers down very soon after they arrive in an area. Reports from Idaho and Montana already appear to confirm this. It will likely be difficult for biologists to say for sure that declines in elk are mostly due to wolf predation because the evidence is usually circumstantial. Most predation on wildlife goes unnoticed by people, including biologists, especially when young calves are killed. Declining calf:cow ratios and bull:cow ratios will be the first indication of the increased predation by wolves.

In the most heavily forested areas, where road density is low, even if wildlife agencies receive approval to try to bring low elk populations back and improve hunting, it will be a difficult and expensive job even with aerial shooting and trapping, and may not be possible without the use of poison. Public trapping may help in some areas once trappers learn how to catch wolves. Once wolves reach the Cascades, we can probably expect significant declines in species like Roosevelt elk and black-tailed deer.

Highly urbanized states like Colorado and California, where trapping has been banned, will also likely be hard hit because it is less likely that those states will reduce wolf numbers to help hunters, unless wolves are also causing problems for livestock.

Hunters in most of Oregon might have better expectations because of the mix of agriculture and forest lands and the fact that many forested wilderness areas do not support big game in winter and thus won't support wolves either. Also, Oregon has a strong hunting tradition and has used foresight in implementing a reasonable compromise in its management plan for wolves. So far, [[total]] elk harvests in the West have not been greatly affected by wolves, but in some specific areas, elk hunting opportunity is already significantly reduced.

Judging from what Alaska has been through, the controversy around wolves in the western states will rage for many years, biologists will be caught in the middle, and any eventual compromise between the allocation of game between hunters and wolves will have to come from the legislature. Ultimately, the influence of wolves on the hunter's ability to successfully take big game will depend as much on politics as it will on biology.

Fortunately for hunters, because many important deer and elk winter ranges are on ranchlands, people will not tolerate high wolf numbers there and elk and deer will likely get some relief from winter wolf predation. It will be important for hunters to work with ranchers. Maintaining the integrity and economic viability of large ranches that are adjacent to national forests and other public lands will likely become increasingly important to the interests of hunters. For many hunters, having a place to hunt will continue to be at least as important as the influence of wolves and many of the best hunting opportunities will be on private land. This will be increasingly true as wolf predation displaces some hunters from national forest lands.

One unfortunate consequence of the controversy around wolves is that it will likely detract from the larger and more important issues of land conservation. It will be tempting, and perhaps necessary, for the hunting/conservation groups to become embroiled in litigation and lobbying to protect their interests. However, whether it is spent by animal rights groups, conservation groups, or wolf advocates, over the long run, money spent on litigation does not benefit the interests of wildlife conservation, hunters, or wolves. Think of how much better it would be to have spent the same money on acquiring land and conservation easements to protect the large, undeveloped tracts of land that wolves, elk, and hunters require

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