Far too often, people charged with illegally killing a wolf claim they thought they were shooting a coyote. The hunter who recently shot and killed a wolf in Oregon made such a questionable claim. So did the man who shot the first wolf to reach the Grand Canyon. Often the dead wolf was protected under state or federal laws. Such illegal killing happens in shocking numbers according to a commentary by scientists published in the international journal Biodiversity and Conservation.
In “When Shooting a Coyote Kills a Wolf: Mistaken Identity or Misguided Management?”, Thomas Newsome, Jeremy Bruskotter, and William Ripple present these statistics:
1. Of the 711 radio-collared grey wolves that died in the western U.S. between 1982 and 2004, 12% were killed illegally.
2. Of all the red wolves that have died to date, 25% of them fell to illegal shooting.
3. For Mexican wolves, illegal killing accounts for about 55% of all deaths from 1998 to 2013.
These are just the deaths that researchers know about. The count does not include the number of wolves killed secretly by those who believe in “shoot, shovel, and shut up.”
Whatever the total number, the authors state that illegal killing of wolves represents a substantial failure in wolf management, because to meet the objective of the Endangered Species Act wolves need to recolonize significant portions of their former range. And—after decades of trying—grey wolves still occupy only about 15% of their historic range in the lower 48. Worse yet, “…Mexican wolves and red wolves are among the rarest terrestrial mammals in the world.”
The authors believe that new management strategies are required to help wolf populations recover. They suggest that one way to reduce illegal wolf killing is “the banning of coyote hunting at least during the ungulate hunting season to prevent cases of mistaken identity, especially where wolves are at low densities, or recolonizing new areas.” (This was the scenario in Oregon: the hunter was after elk in a state where wolf numbers are low.) The authors report this approach worked in the 1980s when Wisconsin implemented a coyote hunting ban during deer hunting season to eliminate wolf killing due to mistake identity. After that ban, wolves had unprecedented population growth.
Banning coyote killing won’t be easy. Some people see coyotes as vermin to be destroyed without remorse. Others feel strongly that coyote hunting and derbies help reduce livestock losses.
But banning coyote killing makes sense. The authors point to research that shows “coyote populations are far too resilient to be affected by most periodic control eradication programs, let alone from derbies or recreational hunting.”
Though coyotes are resilient, wolves aren’t. The scientists write that humans killing wolves “is a critical risk factor that requires management, especially when individuals move into new territories unoccupied by other wolves.” In other words, dispersing wolves need all the protection they can get.
Banning coyote hunting and senseless derbies can save coyotes and reduce the number of wolves killed by mistake.
Rick's award-winning Deep into Yellowstone and best-selling In the Temple of Wolves are available signed or unsigned on Amazon.
Photo of coyote CCO Public domain via Pixabay, Photo of wolf CCO Pub domain via Pixabay