Wildlife Services’ — AKA Murder, Inc.’s — Unregulated Killing Fields: The Body Count of this Killing Agency is Sickeningly Reprehensible

by Marc Bekoff


“Wildlife Services is one of the most opaque and least accountable agencies I know of. It is not capable of reforming itself. They need a mandate for reform… it’s going to have to be imposed on them.” REP. PETER DEFAZIO, Senior U.S. Congressman (D-OR)

A recent essay in the New York Times by Richard Conniff called “America’s Wildlife Body Count” is a must read for anyone interested in the ways in which Wildlife Services, AKA Murder, Inc., conducts business as usual. It is simply amazing how those who work for Wildlife Services get away with killing millions upon millions of nonhuman animals (animals) “in the name of coexistence and conservation” using brutal and sickening methods including poisoning, trapping, snaring, and shooting, even from airplanes. And, of course, non-target animals, including people’s pets, are also part of the carnage.

You can learn more about Wildlife Services’ killing ways in a short film called EXPOSED: USDA’s Secret War on Wildlife at the website for Predator Defense. Mr. Conniff’s essay is a nice, but depressing, follow-up, to a recent essay of mine called “The Wars on Wolves, Cats, and Other Animals: It’s Time to Forever Close Down the Killing Fields” (please also see “The Psychology of Killing Wolves, Cats, and other Animals” about people who say they love animals and then support killing them). I know many people simply do not believe what they hear about Wildlife Services and their and others’ unrelenting wars on wildlife, but the facts speak for themselves, and we need to put them all out of business as soon as possible.

Predators are not the leading cause of livestock deaths and killing them doesn’t work

Mr. Conniff’s essay is available online so below are a few facts and snippets to whet your appetite for more, although the body count for which Wildlife Services is responsible will make you ill. He provides a concise review of a recent peer reviewed research paper by the University of Wisconsin’s Dr. Adrian Treves and his colleagues called “Predator control should not be a shot in the dark.” The abstract for this landmark study that analyses if predator control actually works — it clearly does not — reads as follows:

Livestock owners traditionally use various non-lethal and lethal methods to protect their domestic animals from wild predators. However, many of these methods are implemented without first considering experimental evidence of their effectiveness in mitigating predation-related threats or avoiding ecological degradation. To inform future policy and research on predators, we systematically evaluated evidence for interventions against carnivore (canid, felid, and ursid) predation on livestock in North American and European farms. We also reviewed a selection of tests from other continents to help assess the global generality of our findings. Twelve published tests – representing five non-lethal methods and 7 lethal methods – met the accepted standard of scientific inference (random assignment or quasi-experimental case-control) without bias in sampling, treatment, measurement, or reporting. Of those twelve, prevention of livestock predation was demonstrated in six tests (four non-lethal and two lethal), whereas counterintuitive increases in predation were shown in two tests (zero non-lethal and two lethal); the remaining four (one non-lethal and three lethal) showed no effect on predation. Only two non-lethal methods (one associated with livestock-guarding dogs and the other with a visual deterrent termed “fladry”) assigned treatments randomly, provided reliable inference, and demonstrated preventive effects. We recommend that policy makers suspend predator control efforts that lack evidence for functional effectiveness and that scientists focus on stringent standards of evidence in tests of predator control.

Mr. Conniff begins:

Until recently, I had never had any dealings with Wildlife Services, a century-old agency of the United States Department of Agriculture with a reputation for strong-arm tactics and secrecy. It is beloved by many farmers and ranchers and hated in equal measure by conservationists, for the same basic reason: It routinely kills predators and an astounding assortment of other animals — 3.2 million of them last year — because ranchers and farmers regard them as pests.

Referring to Dr. Treves’ study Mr. Conniff notes:

To find out, the researchers reviewed scientific studies of predator control regimens — some lethal, some not — over the past 40 years. The results were alarming. Of the roughly 100 studies surveyed, only two met the “gold standard” for scientific evidence. That is, they conducted randomized controlled trials and took precautions to avoid bias. Each found that nonlethal methods (like guard dogs, fences and warning flags) could be effective at deterring predators.

Note that only around 2% of the studies presented solid scientific evidence about the question at hand. Would you get out of bed if you only had a 2% chance of making it through the day?

Wildlife Services pretty much does whatever they want to do as if they’re the only show in town, and a horrific show it is. When Mr. Conniff tried to get Wildlife Services to respond to queries they were not very cooperative. He writes, “I’ve had better luck getting access at the C.I.A.”

Others also have noted that Wildlife Services gets away with doing what they do with no oversight whatsoever. They just continue killing millions of animals “in the name of coexistence and conservation,” as if the animals were disposable garbage. Indeed, at a talk I heard last year, someone working for Wildlife Services claimed they were “heroes” for the people they served. Many in the audience were incredulous and sighed deeply, as if asking, “Are you kidding?”

Some more facts are worth quoting about Wildlife Services unrelenting egregious and lethal war on wildlife. Mr. Conniff asks:

But why were different species killed, or where? Your guess is as good as mine — and not just about the predators but about the agency’s decision to kill 17 sandhill cranes last year, or 150 blue-winged teal ducks, or 4,927 cattle egrets. Before killing 708,487 red-winged blackbirds that year, did anyone weigh the damage they do to ripening corn and other crops against the benefit they provide by feeding on corn earworms and other harmful insects? Is the scientific support for killing 20,777 prairie dogs (on which the survival of species like the burrowing owl and the black-footed ferret depend), better than that for killing predators?

Mr. Conniff concludes:

In their study, Dr. Treves and his co-authors urge the appointment of an independent panel to conduct a rigorous large-scale scientific experiment on predator control methods. They also recommended that the government put the burden of proof on the killers and suspend predator control programs that are not supported by good science. For Wildlife Services, after a century of unregulated slaughter of America’s native species, this could be the moment to set down the weapons, step out of the way, and let ranchers and scientists together figure out the best way for predators and livestock to coexist.

Please do something to put Wildlife Services out of business once and for all

“Poisons banned since the 1970s, that the official record said didn’t exist, were being bought from the Wyoming Dept. of Ag. to sell to ranchers and predator boards.” REX SHADDOX, Former Wildlife Services trapper & special investigator for Wyoming Sting operation 

Please read Mr. Conniff’s essay and contact members of congress and ask them to put Wildlife Services out of business once and for all. Your money is supporting their murderous ways. To wit, Mr. Conniff notes that taxpayers spent $127 million in 2014 to allow Wildlife Services to continue brutally killing other animals with no transparency at all. That’s a lot of money that could be used to foster coexistence in non-lethal and humane ways, an idea that obviously is totally foreign to Wildlife Services. The rapidly growing interdisciplinary field of compassionate conservation(please also see “Compassionate Conservation: More than ‘Welfarism Gone Wild,’” “Compassionate Conservation Meets Cecil the Slain Lion,” and the website for The Centre for Compassionate Conservation) could surely come to rescue of the millions of animals who are wantonly and brutally killed each and every year.

As a reminder of the urgency of putting Wildlife Services out of business, I end with the quote with which I began:

“Wildlife Services is one of the most opaque and least accountable agencies I know of. It is not capable of reforming itself. They need a mandate for reform… it’s going to have to be imposed on them.” REP. PETER DEFAZIO, Senior U.S. Congressman (D-OR)


Excerpt: Letter from Predator Defense on the slaughter of the Profanity Peak pack

Wildlife Photography ©Jim Robertson

Wildlife Photography ©Jim Robertson

The Profanity Peak wolf pack was wrongfully slaughtered. They were set up for the kill. The rancher, a known wolf-hater, put his cattle to graze on pristine, forested public land in the core of the pack’s territory. His cattle, of course, displaced the wolves’ normal prey–elk and deer. The cattle then became prey. The rancher did not use anywhere close to an adequate level of nonlethal deterrents to prevent predation. He also put salt blocks near the pack’s den, according to WDFW, which drew the cattle right to the wolves. And so, the wolves predated on the cattle.

After this WDFW’s Wolf Policy Lead had the gall to state in a TV interview: “Is that really the wolf population we want to repopulate the state? Wolves that have demonstrated that behavior and see livestock as prey items.” In other words, wolves being wolves (let alone being set up!) and doing the job nature gave them as apex predators should not be themselves?!

So WDFW has now killed at least 6 of the 11-member pack and is actively trying to kill the rest. This situation is an outrage! The slaughter of the Profanity Peak Pack must be stopped. And cattle should cease being placed in wolves’ territory unless truly adequate nonlethal control methods are in use. There are also areas where it is inappropriate to have livestock, and this is surely one of them.

Brooks Fahy
Executive Director, Predator Defense

The Profanity of the Profanity Peak Wolf Pack Massacre

By George Wuerthner

The recent killing of six members of the Profanity Peak wolf pack in NE Washington in retribution for the loss of a few cattle is emblematic of what is wrong with public land policy. As I write, trappers are out to kill the remaining pack members – including 4-month old pups.

What is significant about the destruction of this pack is that the Profanity Peak wolves roamed national forest lands. These are our lands. They belong to all Americans and are part of our national patrimony.

Currently private commercial businesses such as the livestock industry are allowed to use public lands if they do not damage, degrade and impoverish our public lands heritage. Clearly the killing of this pack violates that obligation and responsibility.

What is particularly egregious about the on-going slaughter of the Profanity Pack is that it was essentially a preventable conflict. Had the rancher, whose cows invaded the wolf pack’s territory, been required to use other public lands, or better yet, simply lease private pasture, there would have been no livestock losses, hence wolf deaths.

Placing cows on top of a wolf pack territory is analogous to, and irresponsible as leaving picnic baskets or coolers out in a campground. In most national parks, if you leave a cooler or other food available to bears, you are fined for this careless behavior. We don’t blame the bear if it happens to eat that food. But when it comes to the livestock industry, we essentially allow four-legged picnic baskets to roam at will on our lands, and should a predator – be it a coyote, cougar, bear or wolf – kill one of those mobile picnic baskets, we don’t hold the rancher responsible, we kill the public wildlife.

This represents the wrong priorities.

We expect different behavior from people using public resources. I can, and do, mark up and highlight passages in books that I own in my personal library, but it would be inappropriate for me to mark up or otherwise damage books in a public library.

In a similar manner, we should expect different consequences for livestock owners who willingly use public lands (at almost no cost I might add) for their private commercial interests. In this case and others like it across the public lands of the West, we should expect ranchers utilizing public lands (our lands) to at the least accept any losses from predators that may occur while they are using public property. And if conflicts continue, we should remove the livestock, not the wolves or other predators.

It’s important to note that the mere presence of livestock negatively impacts wolves whether they are shot or otherwise killed.

Domestic livestock consume forage that would otherwise support the native prey of wolves, like elk. So more domestic animals means fewer elk.  In essence, domestic livestock grazing public lands are compromising the food resources of public wildlife so that ranchers can turn a private profit.

Worse for wolves, especially wolves confined to a den area because of pups, as was the case in the Profanity Peak Pack, when domestic cattle are moved onto our public lands, it creates a social displacement of elk. In other words, elk avoid areas actively being grazed by livestock. If the livestock are grazing lands near a den site, then the wolves automatically have fewer elk to take and must travel further to find their dinner.

Who can blame the wolves if they take the most available prey—which is often domestic livestock. Robert Weilgus, a Washington State University professor, studying the Profanity pack noted that cattle were placed near the den site, or as he was quoted in a Seattle Times article as saying the cattle were released “right on top of the den”.

Some commentators, including Washington State University tried to discredit Wielgus suggesting the cattle were released about four miles away. What that demonstrates is either their ignorance of wolf biology or a not so-veiled attempt to confuse the public. If you are a wolf where regular daily hunting exclusions of 20-30 miles are common, four miles is a short romp. It is essentially “right on top” of the wolves.

If you place cattle within a dozen miles of a wolf pack you are essentially putting the livestock “right on top” of the wolves. And if the presence of cattle forces native prey like elk to abandon the area, can anyone blame the wolves if they resort to killing a domestic animal once in a while?

The loss of the Profanity Peak Pack has occurred on the same grazing allotment where another wolf pack was destroyed in 2012. This begs the question of whether any livestock grazing should be permitted in this area. It is obviously good wolf habitat—except of course for the presence of domestic animals. The only realistic long-term solution is to retire the grazing allotment. Either transfer the cattle to another portion of the public lands or, better yet, simply pay the rancher with a voluntary permit retirement to close the allotment and permanently remove the livestock.

George Wuerthner is an ecologist who has been studying predators for four decades. He serves on the Science Advisory Board of Project Coyote and is the author of 38 books including Welfare Ranching, Wildfire: A Century of Failed Forest Policy, Energy: The Delusion of Endless Growth and Overdevelopment, Thrillcraft, and Keeping the Wild.

Claim that rancher turned out cattle on wolf den untrue, WSU says


Claim that rancher turned out cattle on wolf den untrue, WSU says
Originally published August 31, 2016 at 8:06 pm Updated August 31, 2016 at 8:15 pm
A researcher’s statements about wolves interacting with livestock that stirred up controversy were inappropriate and inaccurate, Washington State University says.

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By Lynda V. Mapes
Seattle Times environment reporter
Statements by a Washington State University researcher that a rancher turned out his cattle on top of a wolf den were inappropriate and inaccurate and “contributed substantially to the growing anger and confusion about this significant wildlife management issue,” the university said in a statement Wednesday.

As state officials work to exterminate a wolf pack, the university apologized and said it disavows the statement made by the researcher, Robert Wielgus, associate professor and director of the Large Carnivore Conservation Lab at WSU, to The Seattle Times. Wielgus “subsequently acknowledged that he had no basis in fact for making such a statement. In actuality, the livestock were released at low elevation on the east side of the Kettle Crest more than four miles from the den site and dispersed throughout the allotment,” the statement asserted.
In an interview with The Seattle Times last week, Wielgus had said, “This livestock operator elected to put his livestock directly on top of their den site; we have pictures of cows swamping it, I just want people to know.”

Another statement by Wielgus that none of the participants in his study, in which both wolves and cattle are radio-collared, experienced loss of livestock also was not true, the university stated. At least one rancher in the study had lost livestock to wolves, according to the study.

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Asked to comment Tuesday on challenges to his statements by a conservation group, Wielgus told The Seattle Times that he would have no further public comment on the subject.

The rancher he criticized, Len McIrvin of the Diamond M ranch on the Canadian Border north of Kettle Falls, did not return calls for comment.

In an Aug. 19 email to The Seattle Times, Wielgus stated: “No ranchers in wa that cooperated w us or wdfw had any losses over the last 3 years,” and, “None of the cooperators with me or wdfw has experienced any losses in 2 years. Len Mc (Irvin) has refused to cooperate with us to reduce depredations and has had 2 wolf packs killed so far. He hates wolves … and welcomes conflict … because the wolves die in his allotments.”

McIrvin and another rancher actually had been taking steps to avoid conflict with wolves on their allotments on public land in the Colville National Forest, including deploying range riders, putting out calves at higher weight, and picking up carcasses to avoid attracting predators, according to Donny Martorello, wolf-policy lead for the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW).

But Wielgus gave a very different impression.

“After careful thought…..go ahead and quote me ‘where mcI (rvin) grazes … dead wolves follow’. He will be proud of it!,” Wielgus wrote to The Seattle Times in an email.
The controversy erupted as the WDFW was killing the Profanity Peak pack to protect McIrvin’s cattle, after he and another producer lost stock to wolf kills. It is the second time the department has killed a pack to protect McIrvin’s cattle; the first time was the Wedge Pack, in 2012

Cows in glass tanks help to reduce methane emissions


August 30, 2016
Natural Resources Institute Finland
In the future, the breeding of the climate-friendly cow can be sped up by using genetic information. A recent study identifies areas in the cow’s genotype which are linked to the amount of methane it produces. Cows subjected to study did not unnecessarily chew their cuds when being placed in glass

Of the greenhouse gases produced by humans, 16 per cent consists of methane, of which one third originates in cattle production: more than one billion cattle graze the planet, and each of them emit around 500 litres of methane every day, thereby warming up the climate.
Credit: Image courtesy of Natural Resources Institute Finland

In the future, the breeding of the climate-friendly cow can be speeded up by using genetic information. A recent study identifies areas in the cow’s genotype which are linked to the amount of methane it produces. Cows subjected to study did not unnecessarily chew their cuds when being placed in glass cases.

Of the greenhouse gases produced by humans, 16 per cent consists of methane, of which one third originates in cattle production: more than one billion cattle graze the planet, and each of them emit around 500 litres of methane every day, thereby warming up the climate.

Could it be possible to produce a cow with lower methane emissions through the means available for breeding? The genotype and feed affect a cow’s microbial make-up and functioning. Microbes in the cow’s intestine and rumen on their part play a key role in the functioning of the cow’s entire biological system. “A similar interaction was previously detected in humans,” says Johanna Vilkki, professor at Luke.

As part of a project named RuminOmics, led by the University of Aberdeen and funded by the EU, the Natural Resources Institute Finland, in collaboration with ten other European research institutes, investigated the interaction between a ruminant’s genotype, feed, and the microbial make-up of the rumen, examining the role these factors played in the energy-efficiency of dairy cattle and their methane emissions.

Significant differences in methane production between individuals

Under the RuminOmics project, one thousand cows were examined in different European countries. One hundred Ayshire cows visited a metabolic chamber, located in Luke’s Jokioinen cowshed, in which their methane emissions were measured. In addition, their digestion, production characteristics, energy-efficiency and metabolism, as well as their microbial make-up, were monitored.

Substantial differences in measurement results were found between different farms and countries, as feeding practices, for example, differ from each other a great deal. It was expected that Finnish and Swedish cows would produce more methane than cows in other countries. This is attributable to their feed which is dominated by silage, not by the climate.

“If the methane emissions from cows are to be reduced, a straightforward approach according to which only cows with low emissions are left in the livestock is perhaps not the best solution. On the contrary, the results indicate that many cows with low methane emissions are inefficient due to the fact that they are unable to make use contained in fodder.

Relative methane emissions of a cow per production unit, kilo of milk or beef are reduced if the production level or production age are increased.

Therefore, it makes sense, from an ethical and environmental perspective, to favour cows with an excellent production capability and keep them in production for as long as possible,” Viikki says by way of recommendation.

Genes reveal a cow with low emission

Information available in the near future will indicate whether or not cows with low emissions and a good production capability can be selected for breeding on the basis of genetic data. The study identified areas in the cow’s genotype, the variation of which was linked to the amount of methane produced per kilo of milk produced.

“We will investigate whether these genes affect the variation in the microbial make-up of cows’ rumen or other characteristics of cows such as the size of their rumen, production level of capability to use fodder.”

Reduced emissions and healthier milk

Cows’ fodder contains a great deal of unsaturated fatty acids, but the microbes in the rumen transform them into saturated fatty acids. Therefore, approximately 70 percent of the fats in milk comprises solid fats.

The make-up of fatty acids in the cows studied was measured, and its connection to the microbial make-up of the rumen was examined. Further research will reveal whether a cow’s fatty acid make-up indicates the cow’s methane emissions.

“By changing the feed of cows, we seek to reduce the proportion of microbes causing methane emissions, the amount of which is also related to the amount of saturated fatty acids in milk. Using this method, we can perhaps also change the nutritional make-up of milk in a healthier direction,” Viikki remarks.

More Information

What is a metabolic chamber?

Methane production of dairy cattle is measured in the four metabolic chambers at Luke’s experimental cowshed in Minkiö. Animal well-being has been taken into consideration in the planning of the chambers.

In order to create an agreeable environment for the cows in their chambers of 20 cubic metres in volume, they have been placed in the vicinity of other cows in the cowshed. The chambers have a steel framework with transparent polycarbonate walls, allowing the cows to see the other cows in the herd. To ensure safety, the chambers have an emergency exit which will open if the equipment experiences a power outage or the carbon dioxide level reaches too high a value.

In the course of studies, air intake and outflow is measured for the concentration of carbon dioxide, oxygen, methane and hydrogen using a gas analyser. The volume of air flow is measured using a mass flowmeter.

Cows’ daily feed consumption and milk production is measured and recorded, and the manure and urine produced is collected. This will enable the analysis of the energy metabolism of dairy cattle in addition to methane measurements.

Story Source:

The above post is reprinted from materials provided by Natural Resources Institute Finland. The original item was written by Ulla Ramstadius. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

Cows, Culture and the Search for Wildness in the American West


by Stephen Capra

If one desires today to hike as far as they can away from civilization in the American West, they may find magical vistas and great streams that carry glacial water from our highest peaks. With luck they may see the tracks of a grizzly or hear the howl of a wolf. They may lose any sense of a path or trail, but what they will never lose, short of the boundaries of a National Park, is the constant piles of cow manure or the intersection of bovine that remind the hiker, the explorer, that there is no wildness in the West in 2016, but rather one large continuous stock yard of greed and stupidity, one that is in reality the graveyard of biodiversity.

Summer in the West is beginning to slowly yield to an approaching fall. The cows of the high country are beginning their slow migration across clear streams that come from receding glaciers. Wildlife Services remains busy poisoning, shooting and destroying the wild heart of our of our predator species that were designed to manage and keep in balance that which we call wildlife. Yet, the clowns of the West, those that remain the least evolved- the rancher, continue their occupation of the lands that once sang wildness and conveyed harmony and balance.

Wildness is not simply a word; it is not a place or a construct of the imagination. It is a heartbeat, a realm, a place of perfection that is the collusion of space, wildlife, quiet, sky, earth and water. It is a dimension known to few and treasured by many. Perhaps because it is so special, it is feared. To walk in the land of the grizzly, with a storm raging and cross a river swollen with a recent rain, is to sweat hard and risk, it is to allow yourself the sense of being one with a primordial force, it is the chance to breath and smell and cleanse yourself of the burden of life in a modern world.

Over time the ranching culture has stained our lives in the West. We began with a Native American culture, one that reflected the harmony and freedom that we search for today. In the base fear that defined the Americans of Manifest Destiny, we promoted control, control of a people, control of wildlife, control of wildness. In such an environment, the ranching culture was conceived and flourished. Today the DNA of that misguided venture lives on in our State Game Commissions, in our National Forest and Bureau of Land Management decisions. It is part of the demented culture of trapping and it resonates with so many Western lawmakers in their desire to kill the wildness that is the birthright of all species.

Nowhere is that more obvious, than in our western relationship to the cow. No species has ever defined genocide more clearly; no species has cost us more in blood or treasure.

If we are to ever rekindle the magic that is wildness, it must begin with ending the occupation of our Western lands at the hands of our bovine invaders. We must work to make our lands wild once again and remove the stockyard taint that we find even in our wildest realms. We must stop the slaughter of wolves, bears, coyotes and those species that define wildness at the hands of a people and culture that fears freedom.

We must put large swaths of land off-limits to cattle and clear our waterways of their giant footprint. As the earth cries out for our help, we can with a determined heart transition into a new West. One perhaps closer to the vision of John Wesley Powell, who viewed lands through the prism of watersheds: one that sees our public lands as a shared domain, not a trough for a fear-based group to exploit.
It’s ironic; we began in the West with Eden. Now we must work like never before as the curtain begins to close on our chance, to fix, cajole, fight for and remix that which we have tried so hard to destroy.

The blood that has so saturated our western soil must be the fertilizer that can create a stronger and better future. The culture we have grown up with must be changed, the killing stopped. From what we eat, to how we manage our lands, the shadow cast by the setting sun makes clear, our search for wildness is in jeopardy, but its fate is clearly in our hands.

The time is now to follow the mighty bear to the high ridge and soak in the wildness that is the energy that allows us to fight for a new West.


More Washington wolves “removed” for livestock

From a friend and fellow wolf-advocate:
Here we go again….CONSERVATION NORTHWEST, the group that sold out the Wedge Pack is backing another pack slaughter. Time for them to work on removing livestock from our public lands instead of protecting the “welfare ranchers”
Based on GPS tracking collar data and observations from agency experts on the ground, a total of one adult cow and three calves have been confirmed as killed by Profanity Pack wolves.
copyrighted wolf in water

Sign of the Times: Washington Post Says Meat Is Horrible

“Meat is horrible,” a new article in The Washington Post, highlights the negative impacts of a Western diet.
Author Rachel Premack discusses the environmental, ecological, and health reasons Americans must give up or cut back on meat. Featuring multiple graphs, her compelling argument destroys common myths and seems to support a meat tax.
Premack writes:

By 2050, scientists forecast that emissions from agriculture alone will account for how much carbon dioxide the world can use to avoid catastrophic global warming. It already accounts for one-third of emissions today — and half of that comes from livestock.

She also notes that it takes “48 times as many liters of water to produce the same amount of beef as veggies” and we could save “a collective $730 billion in health care by reducing meat consumption.”
The debate over climate change and animal agriculture’s role in it is over. We know how raising animals for food damages our planet, and it’s time world leaders took action.
In the meantime, you can help protect the planet, your health, and animals by switching to a plant-based diet.
Click here to order your FREE Vegetarian Starter Guide.

How killing wolves to protect livestock may backfire


Lone wolves are more likely to go after goats and other livestock than wolves living in packs, a new study finds.

A couple of years ago, biologists from Washington State University found that killing a wolf to rid a threat to livestock actually increased the chances that cattle or sheep would be killed in the following year. Only eliminating a quarter or more of the wolves in a state resulted in declines in wolves killing livestock.

Ranchers have long killed wolves to protect their animals, but the study’s results seemed to show that the practice might not be as productive as they’d like. Now a new study of wolves in the Italian Alps shows why keeping packs together could be a good move for ranchers.

Camille Imbert of the University of Pavia in Italy and colleagues wanted to know why wolves kill livestock instead of wild prey. Sheep or cattle might look like an easy meal to us, but that may not be true for wolves. And even if a goat was easy to catch, that might not be a wolf’s sole consideration when looking for something to eat.

The researchers studied a population of wolves in Liguria, in northwest Italy, one of the few European wolf populations that has managed to survive into the 21st century and is now starting to expand its range due to new laws and efforts to restore its habitat. From 2008 to 2013, the team collected 1,457 samples of wolf scat and determined which wolf had left the poop behind and what it had eaten. The scientists also figured out whether or not the wolf had belonged to a pack, which consist of a pair of adults and their offspring.

Wolves that belonged to packs tended to eat more wild boar and roe deer and less goat and other livestock than did single wolves, the researchers report in the March Biological Conservation. Lone wolves — either young wolves that are moving to new territory or the former members of a pack that has been broken up (say, when the leaders were killed) — may not know as well what prey is available in an area as the resident pack and may therefore hunt whatever is available, Imbert and her colleagues write. Packs, it seems, can be pickier and go for wild prey when it’s available.

Not that a pack of wolves won’t hunt livestock. Pack wolves did eat goats and other domestic animals. But it seems at least a little blame can be put on Italian herders, who let goats roam unguarded and free in the mountains. And wolves will readily eat young calves born in open pastures; when birthing is done closer to home, cows tend to be safe from wolves.

To keep livestock from being eaten by wolves, the researchers make a few recommendations: Institute a few more protections for domestic animals. Promote a rich community of wild animals that the wolves can eat. And don’t kill wolves and break up packs. “Removal measures do not solve the problem in the long run,” they write.

Cattle kills rare in wolf-occupied areas



WSU study shows wolves’ favorite prey is deer — but moose are also on the menu

by on

By Ann McCreary

An ongoing, state-funded study of interactions between wolves and livestock shows that — no big surprise — wolves primarily eat deer, according to a researcher involved in field studies conducted over the past two summers.

The study is documenting, among other things, the types and numbers of animals killed and eaten by wolves, said Gabe Spence, a graduate student at Washington State University (WSU), which is leading the scientific investigation.

The goal of the $600,000 study, which was authorized and funded by the Washington Legislature, is to provide accurate data about wolf depredations on livestock and evaluate ways to prevent conflicts between livestock and wolves.

Spence discussed the research and preliminary findings during a presentation at the North Cascades Basecamp in Mazama last week.

The Methow Valley’s Lookout Pack is one of seven packs in north central and northeast Washington that have been studied during the past two years to develop a more accurate picture of the prey taken by wolves, Spence said. Researchers monitored four packs last year.

A team of WSU researchers conducted field studies during grazing seasons, from May through October, when cattle are turned out on public grazing allotments known to overlap with the territories of gray wolf packs.

Researchers placed radio and GPS devices on calves, cows and wolves to track their locations, determine where wolves and livestock occupy same area, and locate wolf kills to document what wolves are eating.

Over the past two years the researchers have documented 285 “probable wolf kills” by the packs they have studied. Four of the 285 animals killed by wolves were cattle, and involved three different packs.

No cattle were killed in 2014 by the packs being monitored, and none of the four cattle killed last year were in the Methow Valley, Spence said.

Spence said that about 940 cows and calves occupied the same territory as the wolf packs during the 2015 grazing season. That means that the four cattle killed equal .4 percent of the cattle in wolf-occupied areas.

“I don’t know if people realize how often wolves and cows are in the same place at the same time. All the time. Every day,” Spence said.

“Livestock deaths on the range are really small. Of the ones that die, only a tiny fraction are killed by predators, and of those a tiny fraction are killed by wolves,” Spence said.

The cattle kills account for 2.3 percent of the all the prey killed by wolves in 2015, Spence said.

Preliminary results show that over the past two summers deer accounted for almost half the prey killed by wolves. Researchers documented 137 deer that were among the probable wolf kills.

“Deer are by far the most common prey,” Spence said. The second-most common prey is moose, which account for about 22 to 28 percent of the animals killed by wolves.

By tracking wolf kills, researchers determined that the average kill rate for wolves in the Cascades area is about .3 kills per pack per day during the summer grazing season, Spence said.

That equals one kill every 3.3 days, or about 110 kills per year if the kill rate stays the same year round.

Even if kill rate is higher, for instance .5 kills per pack per day — to account for possible error or winter kill rates — it would add up to 183 kills per year, Spence said.

“To put this into perspective, roughly 350 deer are killed on the highway in the Methow Valley every year,” he said.

The study is expected to continue another two to three years and will likely include more packs, including the Methow Valley’s Loup Loup pack, if a collar can be placed on one of the wolves in that pack.

Researchers lost contact with a radio-collared female in the Lookout Pack last fall, and are not sure whether the collar failed or the wolf died or was killed. Spence said wildlife officials would try to capture and collar another Lookout pack wolf in spring or summer.

“Both packs overlap quite a bit with livestock,” Spence said.

One of the biggest challenges in conducting research into wolves and livestock “is how excited people get about this topic, on both sides. It makes it about the politics, not the biology,” Spence said.

“Having large predators on the landscape is really a social issue. The biology is pretty clear. It comes down to what we want for ourselves and our children,” Spence said.