Another hunting season has gone and past, and surprisingly there are not that many pro-wolf pages publishing hysterical nonsense regarding it. Maybe because they realize that the hunts do not affect gray wolf populations that much? Initially, in 2011, when gray wolves were removed from the Endangered Species List, there was quite the uproar regarding the unjust legal rider. What this did was give states their right to manage their
the federal government. Of course, as you can imagine, the fringe groups used this opportunity to preach about how gray wolves were on the brink of extinction in attempts to place them back on the Endangered Species List in hopes of protecting them forever. What they didn't realize was that gray wolves were biologically recovered since 2002
I will be using Idaho as my example to explain the logistics of wolf hunts. Beginning in 1995-96, the USFWS introduced 66 gray wolves to Central Idaho. Since then, Idaho has seen a tremendous 1196% increase1
in their gray wolf population during the 1995-2015 time period.
Idaho's Department of Fish and Game has stated repeatedly through their social media websites and even during wildlife meetings that they do not know for sure2
how many gray wolves live in their state. However, through an estimation technique that has been peer reviewed by the University of Idaho and northern Rocky Mountain wolf managers, they are able to approximate their guesses.
This technique relies on documented packs, mean or median pack size (mean or median of the sample pool of packs where pack counts are considered complete), number of wolves documented in small groups not considered packs, and an estimated percentage (12.5%; Mech and Boitani 2003, p. 170) of the population presumed to be lone wolves. The calculation uses a total count of wolves for those packs where we have a high degree of confidence that we observed all pack members, and applies the mean or median pack size to the remaining documented packs with incomplete counts. We use the statistical mean when number of packs with complete year-end counts is ≥20; otherwise median pack size is applied. Lastly, a multiplication factor of 1.125 is applied to account for lone wolves not associated with packs or smaller groups. Although this technique is feasible given the types of data we are able to collect, no measure of precision is available for this estimate.
Mathematically this technique is represented as:
(D + (P*M) + G)*L
Where for 2014:
D = 175 The number of wolves counted in documented packs with a complete count.
P = 77 Documented packs without a complete count. Number of documented packs extant at the end of 2014 was 104, complete pack size counts were obtained for 27 of those, leaving 77 packs with absent or presumed incomplete counts.
M = 6.5 Mean (or median) pack size.
G = 9 Total count of wolves in radiocollared groups of 2-3 wolves that were not considered packs under Idaho’s definition.
L = 1.125 Lone wolf factor. The midpoint value from a range derived from 5 peer-reviewed studies and 4 non-reviewed papers from studies that occurred in North America (Mech and Boitani 2003).
-Idaho Department of Fish and Game
Using this technique, it is explained in the gray wolf monitoring progress report that at the end of 2013, the gray wolf population was ~659 wolves. The 2014-2015 gray wolf hunt did not meet quota, which was set at 347
, a little over 50% of the entire population. Dr. Mech was known for saying, "Wolf population estimates are usually made in winter when the population is at the annual nadir. This approach serves to provide conservative estimates and further ensure that management remains conservative. As indicated above, 28-50% of a wolf population must be killed by humans per year." Note the word, "must" here. This quote is taken out of context only in terms of holding a gray wolf population stable
, which wildlife biologists are attempting to do. That number may seem extreme to some, but the hunter success rate for actually going out to kill a gray wolf was under one percent
in Idaho in 2009. With a little more than 700 gray wolves being hunted in all three Rocky Mountain states, and a combined tag sales of ~60,000, it is easy to understand where this "under one percentage" figure comes from.
At the end of 2014, the Idaho Department of Fish and Game released their population report. It was determined that there were ~770 wolves living in the state. So what happened? After the wolf hunt, they saw a 16% increase! This was to be expected, after all, since it is well known and documented that wolves reproduce at a rate of 22% per year.3
Dr. Mech has often been criticized for his conservative views on gray wolf hunting, believe it or not. He knows that gray wolf hunting is a very time-consuming and ineffective means for holding the population stable or even decreasing it. Thus, in a 2010 International Wolf Center magazine, he brazenly published an article4
stating his support for trapping, aerial shooting, baiting, and even open hunting during the mating season."Think populations, not individuals." - Dr. David Mech1
Figure 4, Page 8.2