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States Continue to Undervalue Wolves

Idaho and Montana are selling wolf tags far below market value, depriving residents of state revenue, and disrespecting these majestic animals, declared WildEarth Guardians, a conservation organization that has thrice challenged the removal of federal protections for the Northern Rocky Mountains population. Given their rarity and the huge demand for wolf-hunting tags, states should honor wolves' conservation and only offer exclusive tag prices commensurate with their ecological import. An estimated 1,170 wolves lived in Idaho and Montana before the wolf hunts began last August.


“In South Africa, trophy hunters pay ten thousand dollars to hunt a leopard, a species that is about as rare as mountain lions in the West," stated Wendy Keefover. “Instead of valuing and conserving wolves, or lions or bears for that matter, Idaho and Montana have given away hunting tags like party favors," she added.

  • Idaho charges residents $11.50 for a wolf tag, while Montana charges $19 (and $31.75 and $350, respectively, for non-resident tags). Idaho and Montana have sold nearly 54,000 wolf tags during the 2011-2012 season at these rock-bottom prices.
  • As of Jan. 5, Montana has received $402,037 in license sales and Idaho has derived $479,123.
  • The vast majority of wolf hunters in both states are residents—31,313 resident versus 3,785 non-residents in Idaho (an 87 percent difference), and 18,323 compared to 154 non-residents in Montana (a 99 percent difference). In Idaho, the resident trappers numbered 324 to 17 non-resident trappers.

Wolf tags are so devalued in Idaho, for instance, that it is twice as expensive to hunt pheasant, which are priced at $23.75 per tag. Pheasant, an Asian exotic, add little if any ecological value to the Northern Rockies' ecosystem, compared to wolves' enormously-documented, top-down effects.

“Wolves are priced to kill in Idaho and Montana," said Mark Salvo. “Federal taxpayers paid to reintroduce wolves in the West, paid for innumerable studies on their behavior and ecological influences, and continue to pay for their recovery across the region, and now these two states are squandering wolves and the benefits they provide to the ecosystem," he added.

While charging a pittance for wolf tags, Idaho and Montana demand substantial fees for species they consider as trophy animals—bighorn sheep, moose and mountain goats:

  • Idaho requests $166.75 for a resident tag and an extravagant $2,101.75 for a non-resident tag—for each species.
  • Montana charges $80 for residents to enter a drawing to hunt for bighorn sheep, moose, or mountain goat (and then an additional $50 if one is so lucky to win a tag). Meanwhile, for non-residents Montana charges $755 for each of these trophy ungulate tags.

The majority of Americans surveyed want to see wolves conserved. Wolf-watching in the Northern Rockies by 94,000 visitors generated $35.5 million in economic activity in 2005. In comparison, Idaho and Montana have derived only $881,160 in revenues from wolf tags (although hunters have likely also generated a few million dollars in associated economic activity).

“Given the price point set for wolf tags, it is clear that Idaho and Montana have cheapened the wolf-hunting experience and demonstrated they are uninterested in managing wolves for the public interest. The insignificant fees sharply undervalues these rare, wonderful beings and insults the vast majority of Americans who do not want to see wolves hunted at all," Keefover added.

Background Information

Wolf Hunting Seasons in Idaho and Montana

Wolves Killed in 2011-2012 Hunting Season

(data: Jan. 5, 2012)

Hunted

Trapped

Total

Idaho

173

24

197

Montana

122

0

122

Totals

295

24

319

Idaho

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates that Idaho is home to 705 wolves (although the state claims it has 1,000 wolves). Idaho has neither set limits on the number of licenses it intends to issue to hunters and trappers, nor restricted the number of wolves that may be killed (although the state intends to maintain a population above the federally-mandated minimum of 150 wolves). Hunting seasons began August 30, 2011, and extends until March 2012, making pups vulnerable to starvation and death if adult pack members, particularly the alpha pair, are killed. Residents pay just $11.50 for a wolf-hunting license, while non-residents pay $31.75. To date, Idaho has sold 35,339 wolf tags.

Montana

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates that Montana has 566 wolves (although the state estimates the total at 645). Montana has issued more than 18,500 hunting licenses and set a kill quota of 220 wolves for 2011. The hunting season, which commenced on Sept. 3, 2011, was supposed to end in December, but was extended to Feb. 15, 2011 so that hunters can attempt to fill the quota. Residents pay $19 for a wolf tag, while non-residents pay $350. Wolf hunters in Montana can choose to leave wolves they have killed in the field, wasting the head, hide and carcass of the animal. As of Jan. 3, 2012, Montana has sold 18,323 resident tags (generating $348,137 in revenue) and sold 154 non-resident tags (generating $53,900 in revenue).

More than 300 wolves have been killed by hunters and trappers in Montana and Idaho in 2011-12.

Wolf Hunting Licenses Sold for 2011-2012 Hunting Season

(data: Jan. 4, 2012)

Resident Wolf Hunting Tags

Non-Resident Wolf Hunting Tags

Resident Wolf Trapping Tags

Non-Resident Wolf Trapping Tags

Totals

Idaho

31,213

3,785

324

17

35,339

Montana

18,323

154

0

0

18,477

Totals

49,536

3,939

324

17

53,816

Wolves as Ecosystem Engineers

Wolves, considered coursing carnivores, chase their prey over long distances. They select for vulnerable animals (aged, sick, injured), which can improve the health of prey populations such as elk. Wolves increase biological diversity where they occur. By preventing elk from loitering on meadows and fragile stream systems, wolves indirectly benefit a host of species such as beavers, songbirds, herons and moose that are unable to compete with elk for forage. Wolves also regulate the effects of medium-sized carnivores. In the Yellowstone ecosystem, for instance, wolves have significantly reduced the coyote population, which, in turn, increased the number of pronghorn in the area. Wolves even effect soil nutrients. Soil microbes and plant quality increase in the presence of wolves because decomposing carcasses enrich soils.

American Values, Federal Expenditures and Wolf Recovery in the Northern Rocky Mountains

The majority of Americans surveyed want to see wolves conserved. Taxpayers and private donors have funded the wolf recovery program in the Northern Rocky Mountains since 1995. Moreover, wolf-watching tourism by 94,000 visitors to the Northern Rockies in 2005 generated $35.5 million in one year. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (2006), 197,000 hunters spent $310,540,000 in 2005, while the total number of wildlife watchers equaled a whopping 755,000. Wildlife watchers spent $376,451,000 or 21 percent more than hunters.

Taxpayers have also funded research, including Yellowstone National Park's wolf project in the amount of $480,000 over a 5-year period. In 2009, hunters shot six members the Cottonwood Pack on the northern border of the park. Two wolves had radio collars that cost $1,500 per wolf. The pack was destroyed and so the long-term research project abruptly ended (95 percent of the Cottonwood Pack's territory was in the Park).

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Farms with just one or a handful of different crops encourage fewer species of pollinating and pest-controlling insects to linger, ultimately winnowing away crop yields, according to a new study.

Up to half of the detrimental impacts of the "landscape simplification" that monocropping entails come as a result of a diminished mix of ecosystem service-providing insects, a team of scientists reported Oct. 16 in the journal Science Advances.

Monocrop palm oil plantation Honduras.

SHARE Foundation / Flickr / CC BY-NC 2.0​

"Our study shows that biodiversity is essential to ensure the provision of ecosystem services and to maintain a high and stable agricultural production," Matteo Dainese, the study's lead author and a biologist at Eurac Research in Bolzano, Italy, said in a statement.

It stands to reason that, with declines in the sheer numbers of insects that ferry pollen from plant to plant and keep crop-eating pests under control, these services will wane as well. But until now, it hasn't been clear how monocultures affect the number and mix of these species or how crop yields might change as a result.

Aiming to solve these questions, Dainese and his colleagues pulled together data from 89 studies cutting across a variety of landscapes, from the tropics of Asia and Africa to the higher latitudes of northern Europe. They tabulated the number of pollinating and pest-controlling insects at these sites — both the absolute number of individuals and the number of species — along with an assessment of the ecosystem services the insects provided.

In almost all of the studies they looked at, the team found that a more diverse pool of these species translated into more pollination and greater pest control. They also showed that simplified landscapes supported fewer species of service-providing insects, which ultimately led to lower crop yields.

The researchers also looked at a third measure of the makeup of insect populations — what they called "evenness." In natural ecosystems, a handful of dominant species with many more individuals typically live alongside a higher number of rarer species. The team found as landscapes became less diverse, dominant species numbers dwindled and rare species gained ground. This resulting, more equitable mix led to less pollination (though it didn't end up affecting pest control).

"Our study provides strong empirical support for the potential benefits of new pathways to sustainable agriculture that aim to reconcile the protection of biodiversity and the production of food for increasing human populations," Ingolf Steffan-Dewenter, one of the study's authors and an animal ecologist at the University of Würzburg in Germany, said in the statement.

The scientists figure that the richness of pollinator species explains around a third of the harmful impacts of less diverse landscapes, while the richness of pest-controlling species accounts for about half of the same measure. In their view, the results of their research point to the need to protect biodiversity on and around crops in an uncertain future.

"Under future conditions with ongoing global change and more frequent extreme climate events, the value of farmland biodiversity ensuring resilience against environmental disturbances will become even more important," Steffan-Dewenter said.

Reposted with permission from our media associate Mongabay.

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