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Wolf Management in the 21st Century:
From Public Input to Sterilization


As the twentieth century draws to a close, the gray wolf Canis lupus is more widely distributed in Europe and in the contiguous 48 United States than it has been for more than three decades (Promberger and Schroder 1993, Mech et al. 1994). The species has made a comeback in Italy, Spain, Portugal, and Poland, is increasing in Finland, Norway and Sweden, and has begun to colonize France and Germany. In the U.S., the wolf has recolonized northern Wisconsin, Michigan, and Montana and is attempting to recolonize North and South Dakota, Washington, Idaho, and Wyoming. A reintroduction program is planned for central Idaho and Yellowstone National Park (Wyoming), and an Environmental Impact Statement is being prepared for the possibility of reintroducing the Mexican gray wolf to the southwestern U.S. Meanwhile, Minnesota, Canada, Alaska, much of Asia, eastern Europe, and the Mideast still harbor high numbers of wolves (Ginsburg and MacDonald 1990).

At the same time, the human population continues to increase, and land use by humans is intensifying in most areas. The potential for conflict between wolves and humans is increasing, especially in the more accessible regions, where wolves were exterminated three to four decades ago and are now returning. For example, between 1988 and 1993 the number of wolves killed in Minnesota by depredation control personnel increased 127% (Fig. 1). In Spain, annual compensation for damages by wolves now totals one million U.S. dollars (Vila et al. 1993). Because wolves are prolific (Mech 1970) and can disperse distances exceeding 800 km (Fritts 1983, Gese and Mech 1991), conflicts will probably continue to increase, and intensive wolf management will become increasingly necessary.

Figure 1.
Fig. 1.  Trend in numbers of wolves trapped by a federal government livestock depredation-control program in Minnesota (Fritts et al. 1992, B. Paul, 1994, personal communication).

An important new factor that will also greatly complicate wolf management is the decrease in proportion of the public that hunts, traps, or raises livestock and the increase in animal welfare and animal rights sentiment. Such changes will make lethal wolf control less acceptable. Furthermore, public sentiment against the steel-jawed foot trap and the neck snare further hinder wolf control and will become more important in the future. Because poison also has been banned or is socially unacceptable in many countries, the number of techniques available for lethal control of wolves has been greatly reduced (Cluff and Murray 1994).

This study was funded by the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U. S. D. A. North Central Forest Experiment Station. The assistance of Terry Kreeger, DVM and Linda Glaser, DVM and several volunteer technicians is greatly appreciated.

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