Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Some Interesting Data: The Threat of Wolves to Sheep and Lambs

I came across something interesting in terms of how wolves impact sheep ranches in the Uniited States, from the USDA  of all places.

Apparently the USDA produces a report every 5 years about death loss in sheep and lambs herds. The reports are broken down into 2 main parts, non-predator related causes of death and predator related causes of death. Now, it seems that these reports are compiled from survey data completed by ranchers and farmers themselves. In the predator section, the report details what predators function as the primary threats to sheep. Numbers are split between full grown adult sheep and lambs. This is handy because it allows people such as myself to see which demographic is most at  risk. The data presented in these reports provide some very interesting information.

The first report (as far as I can tell) is based on data collected in 1994. This is important because this is the year BEFORE wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone National Park. It is important to note that until this time, wolves had been more or less extirpated (wiped out) in the lower 48 states. So, naturally, one would expect that the impact wolves had on sheep operations would be small. Sure enough wolf kills only amounted to 0.3% of all predator related deaths for both sheep and lambs. This is about 0.1% of all lost sheep and lambs that year.

Fast forward to the 2015 report (using 2014 data). This is 10 years AFTER reintroduction. Wolves had increased their numbers so much that they had been removed from the endangered species list in 2013. A truly remarkable turn around. One would then rightly expect that with an increased wolf population we should also see an increase in sheep and lamb death from wolf predation. And that was correct, though probably not what would be expected. In 2014, predation by wolves accounted for 0.7% of all deaths from predators. This equals about 0.2% of all deaths. Definitely not an Earth shattering increase...if one could even call it that. This data really surprised me. To my eye, it would seem that even with higher numbers, wolves really aren't a danger to sheep operations. However, something else is.

I looked at the which predator was responsible for the most deaths of sheep and there was one clear winner, the Coyote. Deaths from Coyote predation accounted for 62% of all predator kills (25% of all deaths) in 1994. In 2014, 60% of all predator deaths were the result of Coyote attacks (20% of overall deaths). Second place, for both years, goes to domestic dogs.

With this information, I must say that I am even more confused then I was before. It made sense to me that people would be upset at the idea of loosing their livelihoods because of the predatory instincts of wolves. I was fully prepared to see a much more significant increase in wolf kills in 2014. Why aren't Coyotes hated with as much or more passion?

An interesting note to close on. Wolves tend to suppress coyote populations, often violently, wherever they set up shop. Food for thought.

However, I would love constructive input. Remember, I need data and I am not looking for a fight. I want to learn.

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