Wolves mostly make the news when they are in conflict with livestock and that’s part of the reason they were once removed from the Western landscape. But a new study shows wolves play an important role, whether we like it or not.
It’s not just wolves that prey on livestock.
“Worldwide, smaller meso-predators like coyotes, jackals and such, actually themselves prey pretty heavily on livestock and can cause a lot of economic damage,” Aaron Wirsing of the University of Washington said.
Wirsing co-authored a new study in the journal Nature Communications. He said current land management policies don’t offer apex predators enough space, but that doesn’t mean he wants to see wolves roaming rampant across North America.
“We need to allow predators to occupy more landscapes than just remote, protected areas,” Wirsing said. “On the other hand, we also need to heavily manage them, recognizing that they do conflict with people.”
That conflict made headlines last summer, when members of the Profanity Peak wolf pack killed four calves in Northeastern Washington. In response, Washington’s Department of Fish decided to shoot members of that pack from a helicopter.
“Historically, our model has been almost a postage stamp model where we protect certain areas and try to maintain intact assemblages of animals,” Wirsing said. “But we have a problem of scale.”
So, for example, areas protected for wildlife and public use might seem large from a human perspective, but what humans ay not consider is wolves can range up to 1,000 miles.
And it’s not only in the forest. Wirsing said wolves also roam the sage brush landscape in the central Northwest.
The study made use of bounty hunting data to show ecosystems function similarly in both Europe and Australia as well.