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Killing wolves isn't a great way to protect livestock, study says


A new study says killing wolves to protect livestock doesn't work that well. It shows that non-lethal methods in the Upper Peninsula are just as effective as lethal ones. The study comes from the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians and the University of Wisconsin. 


The study analyzed 199 livestock deaths – usually cattle – and 31 wolf killings in the U.P. from 1998 to 2014.

Ari Cornman, the senior wildlife biologist for the band says, the idea that killing a wolf protects livestock seems like common sense.

"You have fewer wolves around," he says, "and, therefore, you’re less likely to get a depredation, and hopefully you’ll get a longer delay to the next depredation that happens." 

But Cornman says that was generally not true in their findings. What was much more common was this: when a wolf was killed near a farm, its pack members shifted their attention to neighboring farms – at times becoming even more predatory.

"We call this the spillover effect, and what it shows is that … the net benefit of killing wolves was zero," says Cornman.

He says non-lethal methods are just as effective – like guard dogs and something called fladry, the hanging of colored ribbons, flags and streamers off fences.

Endangered species

This debate on lethal control is kind of a moot point right now. Wolves are on the federal endangered species list, and the state can’t actually kill them.

Dean Beyer, a wildlife research specialist for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, says he hasn't read the study, but he says once the wolf is off the endangered list, the state will use lethal control.

"If we think we can solve it with non-lethal methods, we apply those non-lethal methods," Beyer says. "If we apply them, and it doesn't solve it, then perhaps we move to lethal control."

That’s why Cornman and the other researchers are hoping the DNR will look closely at their study, do research of their own and reconsider their management strategy.

"One of the hallmarks of wildlife management is that we don’t kill wildlife without a good reason," Ari Cornman says.

He says, based on the study, there's no longer a good reason to kill wolves that attack livestock in Michigan.

Morgan Springer is a contributing editor and producer at Interlochen Public Radio. She previously worked for the New England News Collaborative as the host/producer of NEXT, the weekly show which aired on six public radio station in the region.