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April 25, 2008

Fact or Fiction

Even though Ron’s testimony is so illogical and inaccurate that it’s hardly worth a response, we could not resist dispproving some of his “facts” with truths.

"Each Canadian wolf is going to kill from 16-24 ungulates per year, per wolf...then in the spring they're going to follow the elk herds around and kill the calves as fast as they're born. That's called sport reflex kills. So we've got the number that the wolves kill to eat, the number that they binge kill, and the number that they sport kill"

Yes, it is true that wolves do kill and eat ungulates (elk, deer etc.) and that these animals are the main food source for the gray wolf. Many other predators such as Mountain Lion, Black and Grizzly Bear, coyotes also feed on ungulates. It is also important to note that wolves tend to prey on the most vulnerable elk and deer (1), which includes weak, diseased, injured, very young calves or older adult cow elk that are beyond their reproductive prime. So the animals that are most commonly killed by wolves would have died from disease, bad weather or starvation due to being the least fit of the population and it appears to be largely compensatory as overall elk calf survival has remained steady

In Yellowstone a 2003 study of elk calf mortality showed wolves were responsible for about 12% of predator losses. Elk and deer populations are controlled by many variables, of which predation may be only a minor contribution and wolf predation even less given the small numbers of wolves in the state compared to other predator populations. Big game managers agree that the greatest influences on elk, and all big game populations, are summer precipitation, winter severity, and hunter harvest (2).

(1) Source: Wright, Peterson, Smith and Lemke. August 2006. The Journal of Wildlife Management 70. 4.
(2) Wyoming Game & Fish PDF File

"the problem with that is every female in the pack is having a litter. And some of them are having two litters!.. the wolves are dogs."

My pet dog breeds year round, so why can’t wolves? Although dogs are derived from wolves, they share a different breeding cycle. Pet dogs have food all through the year so can breed in any season, wolves have to have their nutritional needs coincide with food availability and so they typically produce pups in April when prey is abundant, and the weather is warm. Because of their dependence on food availability, wolves breed only once a year. In the majority of wolf packs, it is only the alpha female that has a litter. Under some situations, such as such as when food is very plentiful, a second female may also breed (3).

(3) Mech and Boitani, Wolves: Behavior, Ecology and Conservation. University of Chicago Press 2003.

"They are the most cruel, vicious predator in North America... after they have killed a prey, then they star on the other predators. They'll kill foxes, they'll kill coyotes, they kill bears, they kill mountain lions. You know, I didn't know this until I started on this research, but a pack of wolves will dig in and kill a hibernating bear. It doesn't matter if it's a black bear or a grizzly."

Wolves do kill foxes and coyotes. This is not because there is nothing left to eat, but because these two smaller species are canids that are invading the wolves’ territory and competing for food.

The typical situation during which wolves have conflicts with bears is over carcasses, which both species like to scavenge. Although in the past there have been incidences of wolves killing bears, and bears killing wolves, these incidents are rare and most reported interactions involve non-violent stand-offs over food. In fact during poor food years, grizzly bears turn to wolf kills to survive, helping more bears to survive. In bear-wolf confrontations, the larger carnivore almost always wins (4).

Note: There has been some evidence of wolves digging out black bear cubs in Canada, but not grizzly cubs.

(4) Shelli Johnson, Yellowstone Journal

"They kill everything. They kill all of the prey first. Then after that, they hunt 365 days a year and they only eat red meat."

Wolves have been on this continent for millennia, and have evolved with their prey. If wolves had the ability to wipe out their prey base then they would have gone extinct long before man arrived on these shores. Wolves hunt in packs as they are not the most efficient predator around.  It takes a pack of wolves to bring down a large deer or elk, and usually involves a long chase as they must tire the animal out first. Research from Yellowstone Park shows that only one in five chases end in an ungulate being killed and eaten (5). Chasing and taking down a large elk is dangerous and uses up energy, wolves will often scavenge dead ungulates that may have been an old wolf kill, or may have just died of starvation.

(5) Mech et al. 2001 The Journal of Wildlife Management 64: 998-1003

"There are probably 3,000-3,500 wolves in this state"

According to the Idaho Department of Fish and Game at the end of 2007 there were 732 wolves living in the state of Idaho (6). Although this is the minimum estimated population size, one must realize that the gray wolves in the northern Rockies are one of the most studied populations of wild animals throughout the country, and that although these numbers are an estimate, they are in all likelihood very close to the actual number.

(6) US Fish and Wildlife Service Website: Gray Wolves in the Northern Rockies


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that man was pretty mean to us saying that they are hurting everything and they are bloodthirsty vicious killers. Thanks for posting this it helps me coprehend wolves more. I need a lot of info for my letter to the governments and fish and game places.
thanks Jesse :)

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