Trent Researcher Co-Authors Landmark Study on Wolf Conservation
Dr. Dennis Murray collaborates with leading experts to discover carnivore hunting policy does not always align with science
The team of researchers who wrote the paper, including scientists with decades of experience studying wolves, lions, African wild dogs, tigers, dingoes and sharks, found that current harvest levels for the recently de-listed population of gray wolves in the Northern Rocky Mountains of the United States have led to decreased survival and reproduction, smaller packs, social disruption and a reversal from population growth to decline.
“A population’s growth rate is the sum of individual rates of survival and reproduction, and data show that current policies regulating wolf hunting have caused both to decline substantially,” explains Professor Murray, a study co-author.
Prof. Murray has extensive experience analyzing the demography of wolves. He worked with lead author, Dr. Scott Creel of Montana State University who explains, “Current policies state that half of a wolf population can be shot annually without causing the population to decline. On the basis of ecological theory, this suggestion is not likely to be correct for the wolf, or indeed for any large carnivore.”
The killing of Wolves disrupts pack dynamics and can
drastically alter the ability of remaining pack members
to fulfill their ecosystem services as well as obtaining
enough food to survive(here, Wolves hunting Elk)
Professor Creel, Prof. Murray and other co-authors examined policies regulating hunting within the Northern Rocky Mountain population of wolves using government data on the size and demography of recovering wolf populations. By analyzing population counts, sources of mortality, and harvest rates, the authors report that current levels of harvest exceed potential population gains, and as a consequence have caused the wolf population within the original recovery area to decline.
“Current policies for wolf hunting in the Northern Rockies do not specify a target population size, a maximum number killed or a desired rate of population growth,” explained Dr. David Macdonald of Oxford University, a study author and longtime chair of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Canid Specialist Group. In addition, human harvest can dramatically alter the social fabric of wolf populations, as was previously observed among wolves in Algonquin Provincial Park studied by Prof. Murray and colleagues at Trent University and the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry. Combined, the demographic and social consequences of human harvest can be substantive and thereby challenge simple models of population sustainability.
This study emphasizes that many large carnivore populations are managed sustainably, including through regulated hunting, but current harvest rates and related policies for western US wolves are not sustainable. The Science study calls for several revisions and clarifications to policies in the Northern Rocky Mountains, where the wolf population faces ecological and societal challenges that are likely to limit its recovery.
More broadly, this research casts light on recent efforts to control wolf populations in some Canadian provinces like British Columbia and Alberta, where removal efforts and harvest incentives have been established.
Prof. Murray adds, “The collective impacts associated with wolf culling in these programs may extend well beyond simple changes in abundance, and it is necessary for agencies to reliably understand the complex downstream impacts of such activities before they are implemented”. Ultimately, in terms of wolf population management and conservation policy, there is no simple substitute for sound data and reliable knowledge.