Posts Tagged ‘livestock’

A Modest Proposal For A Solution To Idaho’s Wolf Problem

(With apologies to Jonathon Swift, the author of “Gulliver’s Travels,” whose satiric essay, “A Modest Proposal, ”suggested that England could solve the Irish famine by skimming off surplus babies and using them for food.)

Ken Fischman, Ph.D.

         Next spring, Idaho Fish & Game (IDF&G) will continue their program to remove wolf pups from dens, equip them with radio collars, and replace them in dens. IDF&G says that this will enable them to track wolf movements throughout the life cycle of the pups and will give them valuable information on a vexing problem that has preoccupied the Idaho state government.

Wolf advocates however, suspect that IDF&G has other, clandestine motives in continuing this program. They assume that radio-collaring pups will enable agents to more easily track and find wolves in order to kill enough of them to drive Idaho’s wolf population down, close to the minimum legal number of 100 wolves allowed by their agreement with the US Fish & Wildlife (USFW) agency. Keeping tabs on wolf numbers through use of these collars can facilitate IDF&G’s ability to do this without inadvertently dropping the wolf population below that number which is something that Idaho officials want at all costs to avoid. This would trigger a mandated review by USFW and possible relisting of these animals as an endangered species, again putting them under federal control.

Some people consider this conclusion to be a paranoid idea on the part of pro-wolf people.  I suggest however that not only could the present program be continued, but that it might be expanded to provide a solution to Idaho’s perceived problems with wolves. In fact, the technology might already exist for enabling Idaho officials to accomplish this task in a more efficient and expedient manner.

The lowering of the Idaho wolf population to a relict, unimportant, and almost invisible number of animals could be accomplished by equipping wolf pups, with permanent radio collars (expandable so as not to choke them to death as they grow because that could be considered animal cruelty in some circles). These collars would be furnished with remote scent detectors and strychnine self-injection devices, which could be adjusted in such a manner that if wolves were to approach domestic livestock within a certain distance, (let us say fifty feet), the strychnine injector could be automatically triggered to deliver a lethal dose to the wolf that would kill it within seconds. Thus these devices could prevent any possibility of wolves killing animals that ranchers value.

One of the problems with present wolf management in Idaho is that there is no sure way to know which of the many wolves that are now being killed in retaliation for livestock deaths are actually responsible for them or just happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Equipping wolf collars in the foregoing manner would make it virtually certain that that only wolves that are likely to predate livestock would be killed, not in retribution for prior deaths as is the present practice, but in a preventive way. Such methodology would not only be more efficient than sending agents out with rifles or traps, or shooting the wolves from aircraft ( L.A.Times, Dec. 14, 2011) but it is less likely that IDF&G would be accused of unethical behavior toward these animals, as they have been in the past. It would “make the punishment fit the crime”.

Alteration of such scent detectors might also make it possible for them to be used to prevent the killing of elk that hunters most value, such as bucks with big racks.  This could be done if bucks are found to have an odor, distinctive from those of does and calves.

Anti-wolf people say that wolves are impacting Idaho’s wildlife. Elk scent detectors in these collars could perhaps be turned on and off from a distance in certain areas so that only wolves residing in or occasionally wandering through places where hunters success rates were below the historical 21% would be targeted. The CIA is now routinely doing long distance killing with radio-directed drones. Perhaps Idaho officials can persuade the Federal Government to share this technology with them for such a crucial task.

These devices could be activated on wolves found in the Lolo National Forest where hunters have long claimed that they have reduced the elk there despite the fact that in some areas where wolf numbers are high, elk populations have actually increased. Doing this would enable ID F&G to definitively show for the first time that such wolf killing was justified, in their eyes at least, because it had a beneficial effect on elk populations.

There are other situations in which these collars might prove valuable. Despite wolves having never killed even a single sheep or cow in the Idaho Panhandle, they have been targeted there for elimination. There was no official limit placed on wolf killing in the Panhandle during the 2013-14 hunting season. This resulted in the killing of 85 wolves in that region. There will not be a limit this coming year either. With sufficient technological advances, cattle and sheep sensors could be used in southern Idaho, but remotely turned off in the Idaho Panhandle. Doing so might persuade the rest of the country that Idahoans are not the bloodthirsty psychotics that many of them believe us to be.

One drawback in this program may be that the initial cost of such collars is liable to be high.  When that amount is added to the cost of sending personnel into remote areas to do the initial collaring and subsequent retrieval of collars from dead wolves, it will exceed the present cost of wolf eradication. Although the program is not likely to be cost-effective in terms of the value of livestock and elk effected, the past few years’ experience has shown that this is not a major concern of the Idaho Legislature and Governor Otter in their efforts to rid Idaho of these animals. For example, the recent addition of a Wolf Depredation Control Board recommended by the governor, which was given an initial budget of $500,000, was passed by both state houses with almost the unanimous vote of Republican legislators. (Most Democrats voted against the bill).

The Depredation Board reported (Spokesman Review, 2/3/15) that it had recently cost them $43,000 to kill 31 wolves. That is a cost of $4,600 per wolf. That this was accomplished despite the Idaho government’s present short-fall in educational funds for the state, (many school districts have had to fire teachers and/or cut back to a four day school week), clearly shows where the priorities of our state legislators lie. Given their staunch support for wolf eradication, they will probably be quite willing to bankroll this final solution to Idaho’s problems with wolves.

The Incredible Shrinking Megafauna

An Elk With Majestic Racks

Elk With Majestic Racks

The Incredible Shrinking Megafauna 

 By Ken Fischman, Ph.D.

Part 1 – Of Wolves and Elk

Doug Smith, who is in charge of the Wolf Recovery Team in Yellowstone National Park (YS) said, during a December 17, 2009 interview by The Billings Gazette, that he had recently been seeing something that he never before witnessed. Several times he had watched a bull elk successfully fight off a pack of wolves. Smith said that the bulls had become so large and had such massive racks, that they were now a match for the wolves. What has happened to the Yellowstone elk to bring this about, and why?

As background to this question, you should know that a fascinating, natural experiment has been taking place in YS ever since wolves were reintroduced there in 1996. By “natural experiment,” I mean one that was unplanned and unforeseen. The last naturally occurring wolf in Yellowstone was killed in 1927. Lacking natural enemies with the wolves gone, and with hunting also prohibited in national parks, the elk proliferated over the years. By 1996 the YS elk population had burgeoned to from 15,000 – 18,000. They overran the area, overbrowsing and damaging the ecosystem in many ways. Then came the wolves, 45 of them. In the 17 years since then, the wolf and elk numbers have changed drastically. The wolves increased, up to around 160 individuals, and thereafter they have fluctuated periodically between that and to less than 70 animals, while the elk have decreased to between 5 – 7,000 animals. You can say that the elk and wolves are participating in a mutual dance of death. The wolves reduce the number of elk by preying on them until the elk become scarce enough so that the wolves find it hard to continue to maintain their own numbers. That situation, together with other stresses, such as hard winters and disease, reduce the number of wolves. Up come the numbers of elk until the wolves, with prey easier to obtain, become healthier, less stressed, and begin to increase their population again. This dynamic fluctuation of the wolf and elk populations has occurred several times during the relatively short span that these animals have been interacting in Yellowstone.

Erosion On A Yellowstone Creek

Creek Bed Erosion

Other dramatic changes have taken place in the Park during this period. William Ripple and his colleagues have documented several changes in YS riparian habitat.  It is rapidly being restored, with cottonwoods, willows, and aspen again growing along the hitherto eroded stream banks, which have regained stability. This has resulted in clearing the water of turbidity and debris. Expanded tree coverage along creeks and rivers has also lowered water temperatures, bringing back cold water fish, such as trout, along with song birds, and many amphibians.. The presence of more carrion, a byproduct of wolf predation, has proven beneficial to a whole string of scavengers, like vultures, crows, ravens, foxes, and coyotes.

Young Willows, Growing on the Bank of a Yellowstone NP Creek

The presence of wolves in Yellowstone National Park has changed the habits of elk there. They no longer overbrowse riperian vegetation, but have moved away from stream beds where they used to provide tempting targets for wolf predation. This has resulted in new growth of willows (shown here), cottonwoods, and other stream side vegetation.

Ripple attributes these changes to the presence of wolves, and indeed he has documented similar changes in Banff National Park in British Columbia, as well as in other locales. But aside from all these changes, the one that strikes me from an evolutionary point of view, is the vision of these elk bulls, with their majestic racks. Why has this happened? From the point of view of genetics, the answer seems simple enough. Wolves prey mostly on the weak, disabled, and sick, as well as on bulls, calves, and does, simply because the former are the easiest to kill. Thus, the wolves are removing genes from the elk population for smaller, less robust bulls. If you think about it, hunters do the opposite. They go after the big bulls with the most imposing racks. Their success therefore removes the very genes they most prize, and results in smaller, weaker elk. Now, you may find it hard to believe that humans can have such drastic effects on the genetics of wild animals. However, I have come across some rather startling evidence that I believe will convince you.

First of all, we can turn to the father of the theory of evolution himself, Charles Darwin. Much of the evidence that Darwin accumulated in the eighteen hundreds for his then revolutionary theory, was obtained through observation of and breeding experiments on domestic animals.

The Father of the Theory of Evolution, Charles Darwin

A portrait of Charles Darwin, who is credited with the theory of evolution.He was particularly interested in pigeons, and actually became a pigeon fancier and breeder himself. Along the way he grew convinced that all pigeons in their incredible variety, were descended from wild doves, an idea that contemporary geneticists, using DNA studies, have shown to be accurate. Pigeons, and other domestic animals, have been derived from populations of wild animals, and deliberately bred for characteristics that humans wanted, resulting in present day cattle, sheep, chickens, and so on.  Even man’s best friend, the dog, originated from wolve

 Part 2. The Tuskless Elephants

The breeding of domestic animals was deliberate on our part. What is more surprising is the inadvertent effects that man has had on a wide variety of wild animals. I recently came across an article in Newsweek Magazine, of January 2, 2009 that describes some of these effects. The most startling one was the discovery of the tuskless elephant.

An African Elephant Without Tusks

A new Variety of Tuskless African Elephant

Elephants use their tusks to root around the ground for food, and in fighting between males during their rutting season. We also know that historically, and from the study of fossils, about two percent of elephant bulls have been tuskless. This was obviously caused by recessive mutations, which have put these animals at a disadvantage from their tusky relatives. Their loss of these useful appendages has undoubtedly been the main factor in winnowing out these genes from the population, thus keeping the number of such elephants low – until recently.

The number of tuskless elephants  has lately climbed to  38% in Gambia, and even more startlingly, to 98% in one South African population. The factor that brought about this change is the poaching of elephants for their tusks. The price on the market for tusked animals has recently risen to $10,000 per animal. That is a lot of money for a poor African, thus making these animals tempting targets. Furthermore, this is not just an African phenomenon. In Asia, female elephants do not have tusks, but the proportion of tuskless male elephants has more than doubled in recent years, rising to  greater than 90%. This has happened even on the island of Sri Lanka, where male elephants are used in the work force, and their tusks are valued as tools. As scientist, Mario Festa Bianchet of the University of Sherbrook, who has been documenting this phenomenon, pointed out, “You end up with a bunch of losers to do the breeding.” Both sexes of these elephants are also getting smaller. “These changes make no evolutionary sense,” he said.

 Part 3. A Whale of a Tale, or Floundering Around in the Mediterranean

Lest you think that these strange goings-on are confined to pachyderms, there is another, perhaps even weirder story about fish. It seems that fishermen as well as scientists have noticed that several different kinds of commercially valuable kinds of fish, such as flounder and groupers in the Mediterranean Sea, are getting smaller. Once again, the cause is painfully obvious. Fishermen, using more and more trawlers equipped with dragnets that cannot distinguish between species or size, have made it a practice to keep only the larger individuals of fish such as groupers. After sorting the fish on deck, they throw the smaller ones back, perhaps in the mistaken belief that they are being good stewards of the sea in doing so. This practice has resulted in the removal of genes for larger size from these fish populations, producing ever more smaller cod, salmon, flounder, and groupers, at least since the 1980s.

Scientists have been curious to know how far back this trend of the shrinking fish goes. After all, fishermen have been plying the Mediterranean for thousands of years. As Samir Patel reported in the January/February 2013 issue of “Archaeology,” scientists from Stanford and the University of Salento, Italy  hit upon an ingenious and novel way to find out. They went to various museums, examined mosaic tiles of fishing scenes from antiquity, and measured the fish depicted there by comparing them with objects in the mosaics whose size was known. Lo and behold, they found out that dusky groupers (Epinephelus marginatus) have been shrinking considerably for thousands of years. Even if the man-swallowing grouper in the mosaic pictured here is more than a slight exaggeration, it is obvious how far back the phenomenon of the shrinking fish goes.

Grouper Mosaic

Tile Mosaic of a Large Grouper

Man’s unknowing tinkering with nature is widespread. Big Horn sheep from Horn Mountain in Alberta, Canada have had a 25% decrease in horn size because trophy hunters  only go after the ones with imposing horns. In Australia, red kangaroos have become smaller in size because poachers target the biggest  ones for leather.

None of this information will come as a big surprise for readers of this blog. Last year, I posted a summary and analysis of an article appearing in the journal, Science, entitled “Trophic Downgrading of Planet Earth.”Its author, James Estes, along with 22 eminent collaborators, describes how apex predators, such as wolves, sharks, tigers, and lions, are being rapidly eliminated  by humans, and that this loss is having profound effects on the Earth’s ecosystems through the phenomenon of trophic cascades, by which an ever widening number of other animals and plants are being negatively effected.

Wolves' Effects on Their Enviroment

A Cascade of Effects Come About from Wolf Predation

 Part 4. How to Make More Coyotes

Doctor Robert L. Crabtree, is Research Associate Professor at the University of Montana. He is one of North America’s foremost researchers into predator/prey relationships, and an expert particularly on the coyote (Canis latrans). He has recently described a similar situation with regard to the coyote populationin the western United States. It seems that the US Wildlife Services (WS), a little known federal agency that kills millions of wild animals every year, mostly at the behest of ranchers and farmers, has unknowingly  gone into the coyote growth business. Apparently most of WS ‘s “predator control” programs are indiscriminate, in the sense that the animals killed are probably not the offending ones. (The same is true for wolves. Their haphazard removal by WS and others is grimly reminiscent  of the slaughter of Greek villagers in WW II by SS troops, in retaliation for partisan attacks on German soldiers. Most of the villagers killed were not the same people as the partisans, but the act satisfied the blood lust for revenge on all Greeks).

A trappers Idea of "Fair Chase."

Trapped and Attacked

Crabtree reports that coyote populations compensate powerfully for reductions in their populations, and WS ‘s widespread control measures (traps, poison, explosives, shooting from the air, etc.) only increase immigration, reproduction, and survival of remaining coyotes. He makes the following observations:

(1) These control campaigns result in immediate immigration into the control area by lone animals and/or invasion by other neighboring coyote groups.

(2) Litter size increases, probably due to better nutrition, caused by greater availability of prey, which results in higher birth rates and better pup survival.

(3) There is recruitment of adults from outside sources into the pack. This situation results in a doubling or tripling of the number of hungry pups to feed, and recruitment of larger and more available prey (usually sheep) to do so. Therefore, these control measures result in the opposite effect from that wanted, with more attacks on domestic animals (Note: coyotes are responsible for over 60% of livestock killings, while wolves account for less than 0.1% This means that for every sheep killed by wolves, 600 are killed by coyotes. The constant clamor by ranchers to WS and state authorities to kill more wolves is not exactly cost-effective, but what the heck, its not the ranchers, but the tax payers who are paying for this).

(4) Coyotes (and also wolves), learn what constitutes appropriate prey when they are taught as pups by adult pack members. The removal of these adults by control actions makes the pups’ education more problematical.

(5) Reduction in coyote population by control methods results in more females becoming breeders. This increases the number of pups in the ensuing generation.

(6) Removal of coyotes from a pack results in a reduction of the average age of pack members, so that more of them are reproductively active.

(7) Reduction in pack size also induces more young adults not to disperse, but to remain and become permanent pack members. Either that, or they secure breeding positions in the exploited area.

Coyotes Find a Way to Increase Their Numbers

The Wiley Coyote Outsmarts the US Wildlife Services

It is clear from these examples how humans can inadvertently and mistakenly have profound effects on the genetics and behavior of wild animal populations, and that much of the time these effects are either unintended or even contrary to the hoped-for results.

 Part 5. Of Wolves and Men

This returns us to the wolves. In 1996, wolves were reintroduced in the West. It was hoped at that time, that wolves would resume their natural role in our forests as top predators, bringing more balance into western ecosystems. At their peak, in 2011, the three states of Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming had a combined wolf population of 1,804 animals. Adding in the Great Lakes states’ wolf population, there are about 4,800 wolves in this country. At first glance this might sound like a lot of animals, but compared with other predators in the US, such as black bears (630-725,000)  and mountain lions (24-36,000) , prey such as elk (1 million) and white tailed deer (30 million), as well as domestic livestock (169 million),  it is a proverbial drop in the bucket.

Wolves were removed from the Endangered Species list in 2011. Since that time each of the three western states have instituted wolf hunting seasons unlike those for most other wild creatures except those considered varmints, such as coyotes and prairie dogs. For instance, Idaho’s season is yearlong, thus overlapping the wolves’ breeding and denning seasons. Methods of killing wolves have been expanded to trapping, use of snowmobiles,  electronic wolf calls, along with WS ‘s shooting them from airplanes. How has Idaho’s wolf management plan fared so far?

I was struck by a recent report from Idaho Fish & Game (IF&G) on wolves in Idaho. IDF&G stated that  the wolf population there at the end of 2012 was 683 wolves, a decrease of 11% from 2011. Extrapolating from the numbers in the report, only one pack in two has a breeding pair. (I must add the caveat that wild animal populations are notoriously hard to count and IDF&G terms these numbers minimum ones). These figures are in contrast to most wolf populations that I know of, including those in Canada’s Algonquin Park and in YS, in which each pack usually  has at least one breeding pair.

Furthermore, 70 wolves were killed by hunters in Idaho’s Panhandle. One of the main reasons given by IDF&G for institution of a wolf hunting season was to decrease livestock depredation by wolves. Yet, there has never been a case of livestock depredation by wolves in northern Idaho. I do not know for certain what has led to these skewed numbers, but the year-long hunting season, together with a limit of six wolves per hunter (which is to be raised this year to ten per hunter) with no upper limit on the number of wolves to be killed, may have damaged both the physical and social structure of these wolf packs.

Wolves are an extremely social species, and the complexity of their interactions is rivaled only by that of ourselves and ants. Within most packs there is a network of adults, sub adults, breeders, hunters, pups, and their caretakers (usually the sub adults). Intricate vocalizations, smells, and body language help them to communicate and coordinate with each other. Teaching and learning appropriate wolf  behavior is an important pack function. For example, it is the sub adults who usually teach the pups what is appropriate prey. Therefore the wolves grow up being attracted to elk or deer as the case may be, and not to cattle, sheep, or human beings.

I, along with many wolf biologists, believe that an intact and healthy wolf pack is one of the most important keys to low livestock depredation. One way to test a hypothesis, such as the importance of an intact wolf pack to their appropriate choice of prey, is to examine the effects of damaging that structure. There is an unplanned, inadvertent experiment going on in these three states now with increased hunting and “control” actions considerably lowering the numbers within, ages, and mix of wolves in  these packs. In the next few years, we should be able to see the results of this “unnatural” experiment. What sort of effect will these haphazardly reduced wolf populations have on livestock numbers and comparisons of wolf numbers to depredations? Will the reduction in wolf numbers lead to inbreeding and development of birth defects as it has in Isle Royale NP and Scandinavia?  This is one experiment that I wish was not taking place.


                                                                       MYTHS & FACTS ABOUT WOLVES  (1/16/12, Rev. 6/15/13)

Northern Idaho Wolf Alliance (NIWA)


Ancient Pathways to A Sustainable Future

Contact: Ken Fischman, Spokesman

•      Minnesota’s wolf population has been stable, at 3,000 since,(2004, 5X as many as in Idaho).

•     Wolves were removed from the Endangered Species List by

a political manoeuver, in placing a rider on a must-pass appropriations

bill. It was never voted on or even debated. This marks the first time an

animal was removed for other than scientific reasons.

•     Wolves were hunted in Idaho barely five months after being taken off the

Endangered Species List. No other species has had this happen to

them. Almost 300 wolves were killed in Idaho & Montana’s first hunts

in 2010 and this number increased to over 550 in 2012.(did not include wolves killed for livestock depredation)

•   In most of Idaho they did not even setting an overall quota for the

2011 – 2012 hunt. Hunters may kill as many wolves as they can,

individual hunter limits are 10 wolves each, & they are

allowed to utilize: traps, baiting, & electronic wolf calls to do so.

•    The killing of such a large percentage of the wolf population

amounts to a slow motion extermination campaign. It is certainly not

“Managing” wildlife.

•     The 2011-12 Idaho wolf hunting season was 10 months long – beginning

September 1st. & ending in June. This long a hunting season is

highly unusual for any animal, & impacts the wolves’ mating denning


•   The  long wolf hunting season creates an almost year-round danger

for hikers, bird watchers, campers, & boaters from accidental shooting

by hunters. It is not safe to go out into the woods at any time now.

•    There have been only two authenticated killings of humans by wolves

in North America in the last 200 years, You are in greater danger of

killed by a dog. Dogs killed 27 people in 1997-1998 . 

•   Wolves belong in our wild areas. They are an essential part of a

healthy and functioning ecosystem. As an apex or keystone

predator they are crucial to the well being of everything from

flowering plants and trees to insects and all the other mammals,

including elk and deer.

•     There has been talk about the Idaho wolves being “aliens” because

they were introduced from British Columbia & Alberta. These statements

have no scientific basis. All state wildlife agencies as well as independent scientists

agree that  genetically, the wolves that

were historically eradicated from the northern Rockies

and the wolves that have been re-introduced in the past

decade are the same species, Canis lupus.

•     There have been wild claims that these wolves are huge, many over

200 pounds. All 188 wolves killed in the first Idaho wolf hunt in 2009 were officially

weighed by IDF&G agents. The average female was 86 lbs. and the

average male, 101 lbs. The largest was 127 lbs.

•     Many hunters claim that wolves are decimating elk herds – According to the Rocky

Mountain Elk Foundation 2007 Report, the Idaho elk population has been above

100,000 since 1985, and the Northern Rockies elk population has

increased 32.9% in the last 25 years, to over one million animals. Elk #s

increased by 3,000 in 2010 alone.

•     Idaho’s elk population fluctuates, but the hunters’ have a

perception that elk numbers are decreasing. This is probably due to the

wolves pushing elk off the valley floors and into the mountains,

making the hunters work harder to find them.

•     Contrary to the claims of ranchers, wolves are not killing off large

numbers of  livestock – According to the USDA

Statistical Bureau they are responsible for less than 2% of all

livestock deaths due to predation( less than 0.1% in Idaho).

In 2008, feral dogs killed more than four times as many sheep in Idaho than wolves did.

Eagles and other raptors carry off far more lambs than wolves kill.

•    There are 2.2 million cattle in Idaho. Last year wolves killed 71 of them.

Can you do the math to figure out the % killed? Hint: It is less than 1/100th

of 1%.

•     IDFG’s “wolf-management” strategy will reduce wolves to a remnant

population. Most wolf biologists agree that they  would become genetically isolated,

prone to inbreeding and inherited diseases, and unable to perform their historic

function in bringing balance to the ecosystem.

•     IDFG is using conflicting numbers when reporting wolf population.

They assumed a steady annual increase of 20 to 22% whereas in

reality Idaho’s wolf population increased by 8.8%, 15.6%, and

dropped 0.4% in 2007 , 2008, and 2009 respectively. In 2012, they decreased 11%. (USFW statistics).

•     In Yellowstone National Park the wolf population fluctuates. They declined by 27%

in 2007, & they lost nearly all their pups due to severe weather, disease, and prey scarcity. This happened again in

2008.- and this is in a place where they aren’t even hunted.

• There has never been a single case

of livestock depredation due to wolves reported in Idaho’s Panhandle.

and IDFG estimated the wolf population there to be a

minimum of 55 wolves in 2012.

Nevertheless, the wolf hunt quota for the Panhandle was removed.Hunters killed 71wolves there.

•     IDF&G’s attitude toward wolves is that they are damned if they do

& damned if they don’t. If wolves kill livestock, IDF&G retaliates. If

they do not kill livestock, they want them killed anyway they say, in order to reduce the possibility of livestock depredation.

•     Anti-wolf people claim that wolves are infected with tape worms(Echinococcus),

& that they are a threat to infect hunters with the worms. The Montana &

Idaho wildlife agencies as well as independent scientists have stated that

these worms were endemic to domestic livestock long before

the wolves were restored. Big-animal veterinarians

testified in state legislatures that there is little or no danger of people becoming infected.

All wolves released in Yellowstone and Idaho in 1996 were dewormed first.

•     If you chunked up Idaho into areas each of 100 square miles and

evenly distributed people, elk and wolves among the chunks you

would have in each chunk 1,800 people, 140 elk, and 1 wolf. That

demonstrates how few wolves there really are. How are they to

fulfill their role of keystone predator?

Stephen Augustine’s Comments on Idaho’s 2011-12 Wolf Hunt


Stephen Augustine’s Comments on Wolves to Idaho Fish & Game and Op Ed in The Reader

Stephen Augustine’s eloquent and perceptive words about the Idaho wolf hunt disserve the attention of all those who care about the fate of our wildlife. He points out that the Idaho Fish & Game’s (IDF&G) charter requires them to manage game only for the benefit of hunters, and hopes that the agency will eventually be replaced by one that reflects the majority pro-wildlife views of Idaho’s citizens.

He also shows the far-reaching effects of wolves’ trophic cascades on the well being of other inhabitants of our forests, some of them surprising, like those on songbirds, kokanee salmon, and even bees.

Stephen also makes the important point, that contrary to what we often hear from hunters, it usually costs them more for the meat they obtain from hunting than it would for them to hunt through supermarket aisles.

Finally, he finds the present wolf hunt to be very similar to the bounties that resulted in the original extinction of wolves.  He points out that wolves are being persecuted, not because they wreck havoc in our forests, but on the contrary, because they were beginning to exert their appropriate age-old role of apex predators, and hunters and ranchers could not stand the competition.

        Ken Fischman


Comments to the Idaho Fish & Game Commissioners

Coeur D'Alene, 09 November 2011

By Stephen Augustine, Co-Founder of Sandpoint Vegetarians

Good evening. My name is Stephen Augustine and I am a resident of Sandpoint, Idaho. I am an ardent supporter of wildlife conservation in Idaho with an annual donation on our tax return and wildlife plates on our vehicle. I firmly believe and uphold the law that ALL the wildlife in the State of Idaho is to be maintained for the benefit of ALL the people of Idaho.

Last month was an interesting month: planet Earth reached 7 billion people, the Javan rhino became extinct in Vietnam, and purse seiners took advantage of the turmoil in Libya to plunder critical Bluefin tuna spawning grounds in the Mediterranean. Earlier, in July, the universally respected journal Science, published a report titled "The Trophic Downgrading of Planet Earth". The report concluded that the most pervasive and far-reaching negative impact that humans have had on Earth's natural ecologies is the removal and destruction of apex predators – species such as Bluefin tuna in the Mediterranean or wolves in the Rockies. Our shared planet is, sadly, stressed well beyond sustainable limits.

It is long past time for humans to grow up and stop being hedonistic, shortsighted, schoolyard bullies. Here in Idaho we still have a chance to preserve some remnant of what is natural. Managing wildlife in Idaho as a big stocked killing arena is NOT natural. Sadly you, IDFG, are tasked to operate under an obsolete charter wherein Idaho is perceived to be some fantasy frontier and all wildlife exists to be hunted and killed. This is reflected in observing that IDFG's wolf "management" policies are designed precisely to ensure that wolves do NOT play a meaningful ecological role and that they do not upset the status quo wherein you, IDFG, try to provide your client-hunters a maximal number of elk for them to kill.

I realize that, to some extent, your hands are bound by this outdated and anachronistic charter. Even your staff biologists have to stifle their advanced training and modern science to kowtow to the desires of people who want to go out and kill something. The hysterical prattling, by those calling for bounties on wolves, has nothing to do with anything related to truth or what is relevant to the people of Idaho. One needs only look north to Canada, with 50,000 wolves, where presumably there are no elk or deer left, all the young children have long since been gobbled up by vicious “Canadian wolves”, and all the remaining Canadians are severely infested with Echinococcus granulosus.

You should realize that you do not need to give in to the shrill voices calling for yet more creatures to kill but can make decisions that serve the majority of the citizens of Idaho – a majority who want to see an integrated and natural ecosystem where species like wolves are restored to their meaningful and necessary place. In the meantime, I remain hopeful that, within the next generation, IDFG will be replaced by a new agency that has a new and more rational charter and has as its constituents ALL the people of Idaho.

Thank you for your time.

Stephen Augustine


Cry Wolf

By Stephen Augustine, Co-Founder of Sandpoint Vegetarians

Op Ed in Sandpoint Reader, September, 2011

Tuesday, August 30th marks the beginning of a 7-month open season on the estimated 1000 wolves dispersed throughout Idaho. Wolves will run a gauntlet of hunters armed with any weapon of their choice, electronic calls, snares and leg-hold traps. To garner more kills and revenue, Idaho Fish & Game (IDFG) will be selling an unlimited number of wolf tags and has reduced the price of a non-resident wolf tag from $186 to a mere $31.75.

This open season on wolves is brought to us courtesy of a completely out-of-place rider attached to the Congressional budget bill that was passed on April 14th of this year and summarily removes wolves from the Endangered Species List. The rider, sponsored by Montana Senators Jon Tester and Max Baucus along with Idaho Representative Mike Simpson, was forced through by powerful hunting and ranching lobbies and undermined the rule of law in matters that should have been left to scientists.

Exactly three months after the passage of the budget bill and its perverted rider, Science, one of the world’s most respected and cited scientific journals, published a collaborative report by some of the world’s most respected wildlife biologists titled Trophic Downgrading of Planet Earth. The report concludes that the most pervasive and far-reaching impact that humans have had on Earth’s natural ecologies is the removal and destruction of apex predators. Not just big predators like wolves, cougars, lions, tigers and sharks but other smaller species such as bass, otters, sea stars, foxes, and coyotes. The removal of such apex predators results in a disruption of the incredibly complex interactions between flora and fauna in a healthy natural ecosystem – interactions that have evolved over thousands if not millions of years. In the case of wolves in Idaho their interactions with their prey species results in a “trophic cascade” that positively impacts the vibrancy and health of not only trees and native plants but other fauna such as songbirds, eagles, ravens, beavers, wolverines, kokanee salmon, steelhead, bees, butterflies, and many, many others.

In many aspects the western states of Montana, Idaho and Wyoming exhibit a frontier-like attitude where sound science takes a backseat to other interests. In this context natural resources are perceived to be unlimited, public lands are to be used for mining, logging, and ranching and the role of wildlife is to be hunted. Never mind that any frontier ceased to exist over 100 years ago and that the pressure of growing populations consuming at ever greater levels requires us to be ever more cognizant of protecting and preserving the few wild places that do exist and enjoying them in non-consumptive ways. Sadly, wildlife management agencies such as IDFG operate on a charter that is almost as old as that frontier and reinforces that frontier mindset. IDFG was chartered in 1938 to provide “continued supplies of such wildlife for hunting, fishing and trapping.” Indeed, in relation to the aforementioned hunting, fishing and trapping, the ubiquitous and telling word that is used by both the sellers (IDFG) and buyers (hunters and hunting lobbies) is “harvest.” The employees of IDFG end up being glorified livestock managers who use science selectively to further the goal of providing a maximum number of animals for hunters to kill.

Many proponents of this outdated charter justify it by saying that numerous people depend on hunting to put food on their table. About two years ago IDFG commissioner Tony McDermott from Sagle conceded to me that his expenses to bag an elk were in actuality greater than buying a comparable amount of meat at the grocery store. Assuredly, there are hunters in Idaho who do in fact stock their freezers with meat (usually deer) at a cost lower than buying an equal amount of meat from the grocery store. Assuredly, some of those same hunters also depend on hunting to put food on their tables to supplement their meager incomes. One might posit that this state of affairs is a sad reflection of a wealthy society that has failed its people who, as a consequence, have to resort to hunting and gathering in order to survive. That sad reflection aside, what percentage of the total hunting population might these need-based hunters constitute? Drawing from all the hunters with whom I have had conversations my estimate is on the order of 5% and probably not more than 10%. The rest would be “sportsmen” engaged in the presumably pleasurable hobby of finding and killing animals for “sport.”

If the wildlife in Idaho truly belongs to all the people of Idaho then all wildlife in the state should be protected and conserved using general tax dollars for the benefit of the majority of the population and not just for that small segment of “sportsmen” who “pay to play.” From that majority viewpoint IDFG is an obsolete relic and needs to be completely disbanded and a new organization should be created with a new charter.

Coming back to wolves, the bottom line is that they do not have a bounty on their heads because they are overstepping their natural bounds in any meaningful way. Far from it – they are being persecuted precisely because they are beginning to exert a valid and meaningful role in the ecology of wild Idaho. Unfortunately both the sellers and buyers perceive that legitimate role as that of a vicious competitor who has no place in their neatly stocked ungulate farm.





Remarks At Demonstration Against Wolf Hunt


Ken Fischman, Ph.D.

Sandpoint, ID 83864


Remarks at Sandpoint Public Demonstration Against the Upcoming Idaho Wolf Hunt, 8/31/09.

Good Signs of the timesmorning, ladies & gentlemen. I am Dr. Ken Fischman. I am a retired geneticist, living in Sandpoint, Idaho.

I would like to address some important questions of fact and Science today.

Many hunters believe that wolves are devastating Idaho’s elk.  Nothing could be further from the truth. The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation RMEF), an organization friendly to hunters, published a report in February of this year, showing that Idaho’s elk population fluctuates, but that it has been above 100,000 animals for several years now. The hunters’ perception that there are less elk is probably due to the wolves pushing elk off the valley floors and into the mountains, making the hunters work harder to find them

         RMEF also said that there are over one million elk in this country, most of them in the Northwest. Compare this with the tiny number of wolves. At the last official IDF&G count, in March of this year, there were 846 wolves in Idaho. Hundreds of thousands verses hundreds.

         If you say that it is unfair to compare predators with their prey, lets compare the wolves with other predators. According to the US Fish & Wildlife Service, there are over 31,000 mountain lions in the Pacific Northwest alone.

• Many ranchers believe that wolves are decimating livestock in Idaho. Once again, this is far from the truth. The United States Department of Agriculture’s Bureau of Statistics reports that coyotes are responsible for over 2/3 of livestock depredation in the US, and wolves are far down the list.

         The difference gets even more dramatic in Idaho.  ID F&G states that wolves are responsible for only 1 -2 % of sheep depredation in Idaho. Wild dogs killed over 4X as many sheep in Idaho than wolves do. Even eagles and other raptors carry off more lambs than wolves do.

         Yet, when a wolf killed 2 calves on a ranch in Eastern Idaho, it got front page headlines. Why? The answer lies in mythology and hysteria, not in fact.

Lastly, I would like to tackle the question of whether wolves are sufficiently biologically recovered in Idaho to justify their being hunted. Let’s put this in perspective. There are 4X as many human beings in the little town of Bonners Ferry, up the road from here, than there are wolves in all of Idaho. If this hunt goes through and they kill as many wolves as they plan to, they will leave small, disconnected populations of wolves, which will be genetically isolated from each other, and in danger of becoming inbred.

         When we asked for evidence of genetic connectivity, the USF&W gave a few anecdotal references to wandering wolves. That does not prove gene flow from one population to another.

         We no longer have to guess about the consequences of genetic isolation of wolves.  Just a few months ago a study was published on what has happened to the wolves on Isle Royale National Park. Isle Royale is an island in Lake Superior. All the wolves there have deformities of their backbones, making it painful and difficult for them to run. This is due to inbreeding.

         What will IDF&G do to prevent that from happening here? Will they fly wolves by UPS between Yellowstone and central Idaho like they now truck salmon around dams?

         The restoration of wolves has been a great success, but it is premature to hunt them now. The best minds in Conservation Biology talk in terms of several thousands of animals needed for recovery, not hundreds.

         Minnesota, where there are over 3,000 wolves, will not even consider holding a hunt for 5 years after wolves are delisted there.

         Minnesota has acted conservatively. Idaho should follow their lead and postpone its wolf hunt.

Wolf Kill Compensation Bill


To The Editor                                            

Bonner County Daily Bee

         The March 31 issue of the Bee carried an article on the so-called “Wolf Kill Bill,” which provides money to ranchers to compensate them for livestock killed by wolves.

         Perceptive readers might have noticed that only one million dollars/year were provided for this purpose.  In these days of billion dollar bank bailouts, that is chump change, probably not enough to buy a Lake Ponderay McMansion.

         Little money was needed because wolves cause almost infinitesimal damage to livestock. You do not have to take my word for it, just read what the Agricultural Statistics Board of the USDA (2004) had to say.

“In any given year, coyotes kill far more sheep than wolves.”

         The numbers themselves reveal how wrong perceptions of wolf livestock predation are. According to Idaho Fish & Game’s (IDF&G) Wolf Population Management Plan (2008), there were 8,100 sheep killed by predators in Idaho in 2004. Coyotes killed 7,100 of them. Other predators combined, including mountain lions, bears, wolves, and raptors, accounted for 1,000 sheep.

IDF&G states that wolves killed 170 sheep in 2007. Because the wolf population was smaller four years earlier, I think it is safe to say that the wolf depredations back then were similar or smaller.

         In 2006, livestock depredation in our neighbor, Montana, was 12,000, out of which only 200 (1.6% of the total) were killed by wolves.

         The next time you hear some rancher carrying on about how wolves have devastated Idaho’s livestock, remember these numbers and the paltry amount put aside in the “Wolf Kill Bill” for compensation.

Sincerely yours,

Ken Fischman, Ph.D.

Sandpoint, ID 83864