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The Truth about Wolf Reintroduction—What the U.S. Can Learn from Russian Wolves

Will N. Graves
Wolves in Russia

Keynote Address


Fifteenth Annual National Conference on
Private Property Rights

Protect Freedom and A Way of Life

Century House, Latham, New York
October 29, 2011


This speech contrasts observations during the past twenty years with the outcomes that the U.S. Forest Service predicted before the government restored wolves to Yellowstone. The statements referenced in this speech are taken from the document "Wolves for Yellowstone?" Vol. II, Research and Analysis, U.S. Forest Service, forwarded to Congress, 1990. (Below, the U.S. Forest Service statements are in italics. Observations of the effects of wolf introduction and wolf behavior in other areas appear in ordinary font.)

Introduction. In 1933, National Park Service policy stated, "No native predator shall be destroyed on account of its normal utilization of any other park animal." In 1988 the Senate-House Interior Appropriations Committee appropriated $200,000 for the National Park Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to address issues related to restoring wolves to Yellowstone. They started to gather information, including consultation with experts on Eurasian wolves. (p. 2-3)

A simulation model of gray wolf recovery for Yellowstone National Park was developed based on observations of wolf predation in other areas. Based upon the behavior of this computer model they reached the following conclusion:

There is no combination of choices where wolf predation has devastating consequences to elk (Cervus elaphus) populations in the park. The reason is that the social behavior limits wolf densities so that the wolf population cannot attain total numbers high enough to depopulate the elk herd. (Mark S. Boyce, Univ. of Wyoming, Dept. of Zoology and Physiology, Laramie, WY 82071 (p. 3-5)

My research on Russian wolves showed that when the wolf population went up, prey population went down.

They concluded that potential conflicts with hunting would be of no concern:

"…it does not appear necessary that wolf predation requires that hunting opportunities be reduced." (p. 3-42)

Hunting in an area fifteen miles wide and sixty miles long north of Yellowstone has been ruined. Wolves have decimated elk in the area. Outfitting north of Yellowstone has been reduced by 75 percent. Only three wolves north of Yellowstone can be culled. (Bill Hoppe, October 25, 2011.)

The Wyoming Guides & Outfitters Association has no official policy on wolf recovery because there is so much dissension among its members. Some members say hunting opportunities may decline, others see benefits from wolf recovery. What could be a higher quality wilderness experience than to hear wolves howling? (p. 3-48)

The Executive Summary on "Potential Impact of a Reintroduced Wolf Population on the Northern Yellowstone Elk Herd" states that the elk population would decrease somewhat, but that the decrease would not exceed ten percent under the conditions modeled. The report concluded that if other factors remain within normal bounds, the relationship between predator and prey would be relatively stable and could therefore continue indefinitely. (p. 3-61)

Dr. Carbyn (1975, 1983) considered that bull elk are more vulnerable to predation than cows. (p. 3-115) My research showed that as a rule wolves killed a higher percentage of cows and young of various large game species. (The Wolf, Dr. D. Bibikov, Moscow 1985, pp. 349-350).

Biomass consumption by wolves ranged from 2.0 kg/wolf per day to 7.2 kg/wolf per day, with an average of 4.4 kg/wolf per day. They then estimated the number of elk needed by sex and age to meet the estimated consumption rate. It appears to me the researchers did not factor in the characteristic of wolves to surplus kill, sport kill, wantonly kill. (pp. 3-116-117)

Chest heights and foot loading suggest that game animals should be relatively easy prey for wolves in deep snow or crusted snow (nast in Russian). This was supported by three Russians (Formosov 1946, Nasimovitch 1955, and Kolenosky 1972). (p. 4-15)

Oosenbrug and Carbyn (1983) reported that solitary bison are most vulnerable to wolves. They reported that a pack of wolves killed one bison every eight days in winter, including a high number of adult males in Wood National Park, Alberta, Canada. Van Camp (in preparation) reported that a large pack of wolves killed one bison every seven days in the Slave River lowlands, and that 86 percent of them were cows or calves. Wolves suppressed bison recruitment in these lowlands, although hunting, DISEASE, and severe winters also contributed to the decline. This was the only time I saw the word disease in this report. (p. 4-18)

"Effects of Restoring Wolves on Yellowstone Area Big Game & Grizzly Bears—Executive Summary, Opinions of Fifteen North American Experts:" If wolves are reintroduced, extinction of any prey species, elk, mule deer, moose, bison, pronghorn, bighorn sheep, and mountain goats, was thought to be extremely unlikely. (p. 4-54)

In 1994 there were 19,760 elk in Yellowstone, in 2010 4,600. Wolves have decimated many species of wildlife in Yellowstone. Now there are only about twenty to thirty moose in park. (Bill Hoppe, October 25, 2011)

The report stated that there should be moderate to little change in elk behavior and distribution if wolves reintroduced. (p. 4-56)

Elk now cluster around park buildings. Elk have moved from mountains to lower levels into hay fields of private ranches. (My visit to Yellowstone in August 2011, and discussion with Bill Hoppe on October 25, 2011)

General Impact on Ungulates. Demographic Changes. Prediction: "Since wolves prey upon weak and inferior animals, overall prey population condition would benefit from wolf introduction." (p. 4 - 68)

In the Mologo - Sheslshinskil Mezhdurech area the bodies of 63 moose killed in a five year period were examined. Of the 63, only nine had any defects. Five had defects in teeth, three defects in antlers, and one defects in its fore and hind hooves. The technical work done in a controlled area showed that the sanitizing role of the wolf in nature is overemphasized. (Wolves in Russia, Will N. Graves, published in 2007, pp. 51-52). In Yakutsk Area wolves kill many perfectly healthy, fit animals. (Emails from Yuri Sleptsov)


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