Amidst the ongoing debate over protecting wolf populations in the United States, the idea of targeting these predators in an annual "killfest" sparked controversy and outrage among conservationists. But in a stroke of good luck, no wolves were killed during the controversial hunt, which occurred in Idaho this past weekend, according to reports.
Approximately 125 hunters gathered in Salmon, Idaho to participate in the Predator Hunting Contest and Fur Rendezvous, more commonly referred to as a "predator derby." During the three-day hunt 30 coyotes were killed, and fortunately, for the second year in a row, there were no wolf casualties.
"Nobody even saw a track. We had fresh snow, and we were just in shock," executive director of Idaho for Wildlife Steve Alder, who organized the derby, told Newsweek. "No sightings, no tracks."
Naturally when word first got out of this gray wolf killfest, wildlife activists were up in arms and over 50,000 complaints flooded in to the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), which initially granted permits for the event. Allegedly this backlash forced the BLM to pull these permits at the last minute, though they say it was due to "uncertainties about the details of the Predator Hunt" and "operational changes."
So instead this year's derby was held on US Forest Service lands and private property volunteered by local ranch owners. Not to mention the $1,000 prize for killing the most wolves went unclaimed.
Wolves vs Farmers
Though they once nearly disappeared from the lower 48 states, there are an estimated 7,000 to 11,200 gray wolves (Canis lupis) in Alaska, 3,700 in the Great Lakes region and 1,675 in the Northern Rockies, according to Defenders of Wildlife. (Scroll to read on...)
Hunting and trapping reduced this species' numbers by the mid 1930s, and are just now on their way to recovery. A lone gray wolf was even recently spotted at the Grand Canyon in Arizona for the first time in decades. Unfortunately, conservationists now have reason to believe that this animal has since died, after being accidentally shot by a coyote hunter.
But as gray wolf populations continue to recover, incidents with livestock have been on the rise, prompting farmers to take matters into their own hands to prevent these predators from preying on their valuable farm animals.
However, hunting wolves may in fact lead to more livestock deaths, according to recent research. That's because of the wolf's social nature. Some think that a death in the pack disrupts social patterns and control, forcing more young males to breed and make up for the loss. With more pups to feed, more wolves might turn to farms for food. Also, the loss of an alpha male, who normally takes control of the group, may result in more unruly wolves that increasingly prey on livestock.
"The only way you're going to completely eliminate livestock depredations is to get rid of all the wolves," wildlife biologist Rob Wielgus, who's behind the study, said in a statement, "and society has told us that that's not going to happen."
Coming Up Empty
And in trying to control local wolf populations in Idaho, hunters were unsuccessful.
"I was looking for both coyotes and wolves, but because BLM pulled their permit, we were forced to hunt mainly in the forest and that is more difficult," Philip Jackson, who participated in the derby, told Newsweek. "The BLM territory is less wooded, more open and on a lower elevation more conducive to hunting wolves."
Also, a 4.9-magnitude earthquake felt throughout the Salmon region Saturday morning might have had something to do with it.
Regardless of the reasons, the fight over wolves continues as conflicts with humans increases, as do wolf numbers in the United States. For now, the survival of this iconic species is in our hands.
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