3 Mar 2008, 9:11pm
Deer, Elk, Bison Wolves
by admin

Pronghorns and Wolves

The Far Left leaning Missoulian published a cheesy science report on pronghorn antelope in Yellowstone [here].

BILLINGS - More gray wolves mean more pronghorn antelope in the Yellowstone area, according to researchers who say the region’s rebounding wolf population is killing and scaring off coyotes that otherwise prey on pronghorn.

The researchers said that during a three-year study, pronghorn fawns were three times more likely to survive in areas dominated by wolves versus those ruled by coyotes. That’s because wolves favor larger prey, such as elk or cattle, and generally leave pronghorn alone.

The findings appear in the latest issue of the journal Ecology.

The “science” reported by the Missoulian here is a little twisted. Yes, wolves generally prefer larger prey, when they can get it. And no, coyotes generally do not predate elk. But the Greater Yellowstone ecosystem is so messed up that strange things happen there.

A super-abundance of wolves has been decimating what used to be a super-abundance of elk. Historically both species were rare in Yellowstone due to anthropogenic predation over thousands of years. Lewis and Clark encountered few of either when they traversed the Yellowstone in the early 1800’s (actually just Clark and a few of the Corps of Discovery-Lewis and the rest went another way).

In the absence of human predation the elk populations rebounded, or as biologists say, irrupted. Then wolves were reintroduced in the 1990’s and their population irrupted. Carnage has ensued.

Today the Yellowstone elk are in serious decline due to wolf predation. The Northern Yellowstone elk herd is at record low population numbers and may be extirpated in the next year or two by a burgeoning number of wolves at record high counts.

The article includes the following:

Wolf numbers have soared since the predators were reintroduced to the Yellowstone National Park region in 1995 and 1996. So, too, have pronghorn, increasing by about 50 percent in Grand Teton National Park, part of the Yellowstone area, according to the study.

Meanwhile, coyote and elk populations are declining. Coyote numbers in Yellowstone are down almost 40 percent and an elk herd at the northern end of the park has declined almost 70 percent since wolves were reintroduced.

These days pronghorn fawns are predated by coyotes. Coyote numbers have declined due to human predator control. The wolves are busy killing elk. In that milieu pronghorn numbers have increased. However, as coyote numbers rise and elk numbers decline, pronghorns will become more heavily predated by both coyotes and wolves.

The researchers warned that state plans to hunt wolves beginning this fall could have the unintended effect of decreasing pronghorn numbers.

That statement is scientifically incorrect. First, it is unlikely that any significant wolf population control is going to occur. Second, wolves switch prey (adapt) readily when the easy game are gone. Third, coyotes are eating the pronghorn fawns and controlling wolves will not impact that.

Controlling wolves will have little or no effect on pronghorn populationss unless coyote populations are controlled as well. That is not going to happen either.

“People tend to think that more wolves always mean fewer prey,” said Kim Berger, the study’s lead author. “But in this case, wolves are so much bigger than coyotes that is doesn’t make sense for them to waste time searching for pronghorn fawns.”

Wolves are not logical. They don’t go around figuring out what makes sense. People are the only animals that do that, and much of the time we are not all that good at it. Wolves will eat darn near anything if they get hungry, including mice, garbage, and human beings. And wolves are almost always hungry. “Hungry as a wolf” is not an idle expression.

It is clear to all but the eco-wackos that if people desire pronghorns and/or elk, we need to to control their predators. Putting predators on sacrosanct lists ends up decimating prey populations.

That’s how nature works. It’s a struggle for survival out there. Darwin was right. The New York-based Wildlife Conservation Society is generally wrong. That should come as no surprise.



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