Does Hunting Predators Really Help Livestock?

Growing up in a household that relied on elk meat in the freezer to feed our family year-round, I’ve always had a complicated relationship with predator hunting. Living in Idaho, one of the first states to allow wolf hunting outside of Alaska in 2009, I saw the debate unfold firsthand.

Many hunters wanted to protect big game like deer and elk, and they blamed wolves for cutting into their populations. Ranchers reported wolves killing their livestock. The state authority, Idaho Fish and Game, viewed wolf hunting as a way to maintain ecosystem balance.

At the same time, activists emphasized that gray wolves were just taken off the endangered species list months before. The species was re-introduced to the Northern Rockies after humans nearly exterminated them back in the 1930s. The fact that people don’t generally eat wolf also left me unsettled.

In fact, state agencies typically offer exceptions for predators that other game don’t have. Idaho Fish and Game, for instance, requires hunters to “remove and care for the edible meat of big game animals, except black bears, mountain lions and gray wolves.”

A recent study pushes me even further away from supporting hunting predators for the sake of protecting their prey.

Published Sept. 1 in the journal “Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment,” the study “Predator Control Should Not Be a Shot in the Dark” concluded that killing predators doesn’t necessarily mean fewer livestock deaths. In fact, nonlethal means of protecting livestock, like guard dogs and flag-lined wires, might work better.

“We know anecdotes and perceptions don’t get us very far when we’re dealing with a problem like livestock predation,” conservation biologist and study co-author Adrian Treves tells National Geographic. “The science of predator control has been slow and not very advanced.”

In fact, one of the studies the scientists evaluated showed that hunting mountain lions can actually increase livestock attacks, at least in Washington State. That’s because hunters targeted older males, leaving the younger, more aggressive cougars to move into places that the older ones would traditionally avoid.

High Country News offers a glimpse into how similar studies are conducted in this video from December of last year:

As Washington state approves the killing of a wolf pack that was attacking cows in the area, maybe we should reconsider our wildlife management strategies.

Photo Credit: Tracy Brooks via Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources

104 comments

Marie W.
Marie Wabout a year ago

NO!

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Michael M.
Michael Mabout a year ago

It's inaccurate to say that hunters or hunting groups work to preserve qwildlife. Instead their activity is solely meant to farm a limited population of limited species, in order to select the largest and healthiest as targets.
Modern human hunting practices can result in reducing the adaptedness of species through this mistaken targeting, removing the best most ecologicaloly fit individuals and weakening the species'capacity over the longer term.
This effect is opposite to native natural predation, which removes the ill, the old, and the natural excess young.
Predators are limited by prey, while humans are NOT.

I travel the US west, from MT and dWY to the Pacific startes, and have noted with despair previously that humans have arrogated almost ALL the winter habitat for themselves. Wildlife is forced to occupy the difficult winter highland habitat, even though ungulate populations seek to come down into the valleys, where they are immediately target during hunting seasons, and of course, excluded by farmers and ranchers and other human developments.

The issue is more extensive than this, but if ranching can be removed from the mountain west, it will be significantly helpful to conservation, ecosystems, water quality. Only about 2% of even US cattle raising is don e in the Rockies and other mountains, and to withdraw from overexploiting that last vital habitat will have far greater conservation benefit than any other single action.
Of course, farming wildlife, as i

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Rosslyn O.
Rosslyn Oabout a year ago

It always comes back to greed! If the 'cattlemen' purchased their land, fenced it in properly, carried the required amount that is sustainable for their land, then they are true farmers. Sadly all over the world the properties are overstocked, so they allow the cattle to roam into Sanctuaries, National Parks and Nature Reserves to save money on feed supplements and water cartage, and steal from the animals that have full rights to that land. The other grass eating animals move away looking for food, or die out, and then the predator has to go with a change in diet to survive. Farmers and graziers are the problem, not the native animals.

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Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallusabout a year ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Celine Russo
Celine Russoabout a year ago

Shouldn't we first see WHY wolves are attacking livestock? Because it's easy or they're having difficulties getting food?

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Danuta Watola
Danuta Wabout a year ago

Thanks for sharing

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chris C.
Chris Cabout a year ago

Thank you for sharing

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Peggy B.
Peggy Babout a year ago

TYFS

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Milli SiteProbs M.
MilliSiteProbs Mabout a year ago

Well, they certainly have the advantage over the wolf, tracking collars indeed, to keep tabs on them. I trust these trackers are honest in the data they provide respecting the wolf pack (only wolves, are there no other predators in the area?). Video is from Washigton, but no matter where, the results are the same. Maybe It is time to quit invading the wolf's territory. Ranchers are expanding (greed) more and more into the wilderness, by doing so they INTRODUCE new food sources for the wildlife inhabiting the area. The cattle run wild, not fenced in and are free to forage in wilderness areas, thus they are fair game for the wildlife, I say tough noogies, you lose a few. I am amazed at the solutions determined by most people, Park or Wildlife Conservation Officers and the Government, seems their solution is kill all wildlife having four paws. Actual wildlife appears to be of little consequence to these people, it certainly does not matter to them that the wolf is on the verge of extinction, or that there are more ways than one to solve a situation. It is a fact that most ranchers do not clean up their act, stillborns, injured caves/cattle die a natural death are left to rot or be devoured by predators, chastise the ranchers for not "cleaning up their act" instead of punishing the wolf for trying to survive in an area that human have taken over. A better solution yet is to conserve the forest areas instead of allowing expansion of any sort!

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Ruth C.
Ruth Cabout a year ago

There is no excuse for killing any animal!

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