Predator control ain't easy


I recently returned from a wolf hunt. The trip was part of my research for an upcoming story on how wolves, once endangered, are now being managed in the Rocky Mountains.

Our experience of managing predators in the West goes far beyond wolves, however. There's plenty circulating in the news on this topic right now; here's a round up of some of the most recent stories.

Dennis Wagner from The Arizona Republic has been writing doggedly about the botched trapping of Macho B – at 16, the oldest wild jaguar known at the time and the only confirmed one living in the United States. Unfortunately, in 2009, some overzealous wildlife biologists with Arizona Game and Fish Department, as well as Emil McCain of the Borderland Jaguar Protection Project, illegally baited and snared him. He fought ferociously once trapped, badly injuring his leg and was slowly succumbing to hypothermia and stress when the two biologists darted and collared him. He was recaptured 12 days later and euthanized due to kidney failure.

As the Republic's Wagner has written lately, it seems that McCain's illegal, jaguar-killing actions, for which he was later given five years probation, were in part driven by federal money. It seems he snared Macho B in order to collar him and attract a $771,000 grant from the Department of Homeland Security. The grant was to study jaguars as part of the 2006 Secure Fence Act, which mandated a 700-mile long border barrier.

Ron Thompson, the large-carnivore biologist for Arizona Game and Fish and McCain’s supervisor, told investigators:

“I think everything boils down to two things. One is ego and the other is money. ... When the fence started to go up and the prospects of millions of dollars for supportive projects went up, then immediately, the interest broadened.”

In other predator control news, this week, members of the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee met to discuss opening the charismatic bruins to hunting once they are delisted as an Endangered Species.

“We have grizzly populations expanding into places that are not suitable habitat,” committee chairman Harv Fosgren of the U.S. Forest Service told the Missoulian. “We need to show we’re willing to step up and manage those bears.”

In a statement released last Thursday, the committee said hunting would help “manage distribution, promote coexistence and help minimize conflict” with grizzlies.

Back to wolves, two weeks ago, the eighth collared wolf from Yellowstone National Park met her death. She had strayed just north of the park, and was killed, legally, by a hunter.

Biologists who had spent years tracking her, and other collared wolves, see these deaths as a loss to science. In response, the Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks commission decided to prohibit hunting and trapping in two areas north of the park, to protect the collared wolves.

This action is being contested for possibly violating public meeting law, but as of this writing, the ban stands.

The inevitability of conflict over predator management, of course, begins with the fact that we manage them at all, retired biologist Harley Shaw told me in a phone conversation this week. As an Arizona Game and Fish Department biologist, Shaw spent his career researching mountain lions and advising administrators on the science. The sides of the conflict were the same in the 60s and 70s, he says, as they are today. Environmentalists want to see nature left alone versus hunters and ranchers who see nature destroying their livelihood.

“Having been involved in one level or another (with predator/human interactions), I have to say, I don’t think I have any more answers now then when I started."

Neil LaRubbio is the editorial fellow for High Country News. His Twitter handle is @VictorAntonin.

Photos provided by Arizona Game and Fish Department, Buridans Esel and TwelveX

Robb Cadwell
Robb Cadwell
Dec 17, 2012 03:08 PM
Are you going to give us any hints as to how things worked out???

I don't know if you've read it but I learned a lot by reading that long chapter in Game Management by Aldo Leopold. He wrote in such a way as to generally true for all predators. For wolves in particular it often seems that most states have plans roughly similar to the possibilities sketched out by that most famous wolf researcher in the world David Mech and posted on his web site at The International Wolf Center.[…]/live_news_detail.asp?id=5894
Matthew Koehler
Matthew Koehler
Dec 17, 2012 03:11 PM
Here's some other articles that could be added to your round-up of recent stories....

MT Wolf trapping season begins; protest held in Missoula[…]11e2-aa57-0019bb2963f4.html

SNIP: Experienced trapper Mike Day of Missoula said he didn’t expect much success at all from the state’s new trapping program. Between the unhelpful weather and the difficult rules, he doubted the wolves had much to fear. “We’re going to have a bunch of dingbats running around with great big traps not knowing what they’re doing,” Day said on Friday. “It’s designed to fail.”

Note: If even experienced trappers in Montana are complaining about "a bunch of dingbats running around with great big traps not knowing what they are doing" why in the world have the much esteemed, well-funded "sportsmen's" groups been silent on the wolf-trapping issue? MT Fish Wildlife and Parks trained over 2,200 Montana citizens to be "wolf trappers" earlier this year. "Thank you Senator Tester....."

Trapped coyote photos have lawmakers questioning Wildlife Services' "culture"
Dec 17, 2012 08:27 PM
Durwood Allen is the most famous wolf biologist. He wrote an incredible book. The Wolves of Minong (the Indian name for Isle Royale).

None of this argument gets at the fact that in most locations hunters are not a good substitute for predators, and populations of large herbivores are consitently too high for the maintenance of native plant communities. Look at the problem of oak regeneration in the midwest. And they're killing wolves there? I'm sure the monetary losses of livestock to wolves are dwarfed by deer-caused losses suffered by the Wisconsin and Michigan timber industry.
Robb Cadwell
Robb Cadwell
Dec 18, 2012 10:51 AM
Durwood Allen is a perfect example of a scientist refusing to see what is obvious when it disproves his theories. Science is self correcting, and history has proven him wrong.

There is no balance of nature.
Dec 18, 2012 05:27 PM
I was studying Forestry at Purdue when he, Mech and Peterson (both students of Dr. Allen) were still bouncing around the neighborhood and were frequently invited to give lectures about their work on Isle Royale. There is no conflict between the narratives of their life's work; but rather they've presented different stages of the science as time and continued study unraveled how nature works. Bottomline: evolution is for real and we and our natural world are products of it. Our actions are rapidly changing the earth. Everything we do has consequences. These three scientists have given us part of a baseline from which to judge our actions.
Janay Brun
Janay Brun
Feb 17, 2013 03:02 PM
To see more about Macho B's story and the events surrounding his snaring and death please visit