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a polar bear sitting on top of a wolf

Idaho’s Governor Brad Little recently signed Senate Bill 1211 into law. This bill allows for the killing of 90% of the state’s wolf population – a drop from over 1500 wolves to 150 individuals – through both contracted hunting, as well as removal of a hunting season and bag limits by Idaho Fish & Game. It is unclear how the proponents of this bill arrived at the numbers in this bill, but it demonstrates the danger to wolf populations under state management.

Hunting prey is a learned behavior. Certain elements are instinctual, but to successfully take down prey, wolves must learn from their parents and other adult wolves in their pack. Wolves are also very neophobic, or scared of new things, which includes humans, human things, and even foods they did not grow up eating. With this, we know they will naturally stay away from farms as evidenced by a less than 1% rate for cattle depredation in Idaho alone. But what happens when you hunt wolves, especially at the level this bill intends? The individuals who fall victim to this hunting will often be the parents and older wolves in the pack. This leaves pups, yearlings, and younger wolves without teachers. For wolves, starvation is a greater pressure than the neophobia directed at human things or strange foods. When lethal management tactics are utilized over non-lethal coexistence strategies, cattle depredation numbers will rise as younger wolves without the skill to hunt wild prey will target easier prey such as domestic cattle. This becomes a cycle where people will end up facing the wolf conflict they aimed to avoid through the actions they took to avoid it.

Even taking human-wolf conflict out of the equation, the mass removal of individuals from the population will cause a genetic bottleneck. This will have unintended consequences due to artificial human selection. By reducing the population to this degree, the genetic options will become minimal posing danger for an inbreeding depression. Genetic diversity is important for healthy future generations. We have seen this in places where wolves are protected in one area, but a clear border surrounds this area where they are not protected and fall victim to hunting. This is what is referred to as “landlocked islands” and disrupts the natural dispersal of genetics seen with wolf mating behavior by keeping them stuck on the “island”.

The Wood River Wolf Project shows the success of non-lethal coexistence tactics that are scientifically supported forms of wolf management. This includes, but is not limited to, sound devices, livestock guarding dogs, fladry, foxlights, and animal management that accounts for coexistence with typical wolf behavior. For those interested, please explore their work here.

Wolf Park supports the scientific management of wolves and use of non-lethal coexistence tactics. We stand with organizations that are denouncing this bill including the Wolf Conservation Center, Defenders of Wildlife, the International Wildlife Coexistence Network, and the Center for Biological Diversity.

For those who wish to take action and make your voice heard on this matter, explore advocacy plans from Defenders of Wildlife, the Center Biological Diversity, and The International Wildlife Coexistence Network.

Read on for more about this bill’s signing here.

Read our initial stance on the federal delisting of gray wolves here.

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