Wolf Control Will Lead to Extinction
COMPASS: Points of View from the Community

Opinion / Anchorage Daily News / Victoria Faeo / April 12, 2003


The culling of predators is a risky business, and I am against it for solid scientific reasons. I have a bachelors degree in biology and a masters in remote sensing and base this conclusion on learned fact.

With the exception of the coyote, whenever humans have culled predators repeatedly for long periods of time for the purpose of increasing prey populations, the predators have not been able to recover to normal population levels.

This has been the case in every geographic location in which predator culling has been tried. It is due to the fact that human populations continue to rise along with the justification for more and more prey. When predator culling generates the desired outcome and becomes an accepted practice it must be continued repeatedly to maintain the larger prey populations.

In years when moose browse is poor or the snow is unusually deep, culling numbers might again be increased to mitigate the decline in moose. These kinds of artificial predator manipulations applied to a cooperative hunting species such as the wolf have been proven to be detrimental to the species' survival. Evidence for this exists in all of the states of the Lower 48 where natural viable populations of wolves are nonexistent.

Although it is true that Alaska's wolves have been culled since the 1940s, and even before that, the efforts have been sporadic. When efforts are repeated continually and in large numbers (all of the wolves in the around McGrath are considered "large numbers" since it is the whole population), the population of wolves cannot recover.

Wolves are especially susceptible to the impacts of culling because of their social behavior. Young wolves will migrate back into an area after a first culling, but the loss of the genetic and learned knowledge of the first population as a unit is not replaced.

It is the loss of this familial knowledge that creates a crippling effect on their species' survival. Continued culling of entire wolf families has a geometric impact. The proposed culling in Game Management Unit 19D East is too thorough, too robust, and will obliterate the accumulated learned behavior necessary for successful wolf survival.

When wolf populations are kept at low levels, the natural predator controls such as canine viruses, parasites and climactic extremes can take a disastrous toll.

On Nov. 7, 2001, the Anchorage Daily News published an article stating that "McGrath Moose Flourish." A new census by Alaska state biologists found that moose numbers were twice what they were previously thought to be around McGrath, and Frank Rue, Alaska Department of Fish and Game commissioner, stated that this shows that the predator control program is not needed.

Also, a study during the summer of 2000 found that black bears kill far more moose calves than wolves in Unit 19D East. "Wolves and grizzlies each accounted for about 18 percent of the calves killed, compared to 64 percent mortality by black bears." Moose numbers are not as low as previously thought and wolves are not the major cause of calf mortality.

It is natural for indigenous predators to be a major check and balance on populations of large and small prey, accomplished by killing mostly the sick, the young and the weak. In turn, nature also kills only the sick, the young and the weak predators allowing the stronger ones to carry on their knowledge and genes. Human predators must hunt and cull in this way, too, in order to ensure the healthy predator populations. We cannot decide to kill entire healthy populations just because we want more than nature can provide in a particular area at a particular time.

Why perform an experiment in GMU 19D East when we know the population outcome? We know the moose population will increase and the wolf population will decrease. We know that repetition of the culling experiment will only reproduce what has happened elsewhere in the world: drastic reduction of the predator. Whole populations of culled wolves cannot rebound again and again. We will slowly exterminate the wolf population in Alaska.

Victoria Faeo has degrees in environmental biology and remote sensing for environmental applications. She has worked for the National Park Service in Alaska, and has tracked coyotes in Wyoming as a volunteer using radio telemetry. She now works at the University of Alaska Anchorage as a computer lab coordinator for the College of Business.

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