POW Wolf Harvest
By Dave Person
August 27, 2015
In addition, they were to live capture and radio collar wolves within the same study area and use the captured wolves to locate and count wolf pack members as an independent and alternate way to estimate population. This was a method I successfully pioneered in GMU 2 back in the mid-1990s. Thirdly, they were to conduct a harvest survey of wolf hunters and trappers in GMU 2 to determine if useful population information could be obtained in that way. The idea was to compare all three methods to see if they agreed on numbers or trends. In that way, the DNA procedure could be supported with independent evidence of its validity and then, and only then, become the tool routinely applied within the larger GMU. I am not aware of any information that has been released concerning population and trends obtained by the alternative methods.
Currently, ADFG and USFS rely solely on the DNA derived evidence without any independent verification of the method. I believe the autumn 2014 population estimate of 89 wolves is more reliable than the previous year's estimate because ADFG and USFS greatly expanded the area covered by the hair traps. Thus, they are extrapolating to the entire GMU 2 population using base data from a larger proportion of the unit. Nonetheless, the only known is the number of individual wolves identified by their DNA (minimum number known alive during autumn) minus the number killed during the hunting and trapping seasons. Population estimates derived from those identified individuals are based on mark-recapture statistical methods, which can be very reliable if key underlying assumptions are met about the adequacy of the sample of identified individuals representing the entire population. However, they can be very unreliable if those assumptions are violated. In addition, the reported harvest of wolves always underestimates the number actually killed by people. The current spring 2015 population estimate is 89 29 (reported harvest) = 60 wolves. Keep in mind we estimated the autumn population in GMU 2 to be >300 wolves two decades ago.
I applaud ADFG for setting their new harvest cap of 9 wolves based on the lower confidence limit of the autumn 2014 population estimate. However, and much more importantly, I am not aware that any of the agencies involved (ADFG, USFS, Federal Subsistence) has publicly expressed a scientifically credible population goal for the wolf population in GMU 2. Without such a goal, a harvest guideline is meaningless and unprofessional. That goal needs to address the demographic and genetic realities of that population and it needs to be monitored and frequently evaluated. Hopefully, the population goal will be based on science and not another PIOMA (pulled it out of my @$$) number because the margin of error is now long gone and the viability of the population may be at serious risk. Any statements by the agencies to the effect that they have no concerns about wolf population viability in GMU 2 and that the population will rebound should be taken with a grain of salt. They simply have no idea.
About: "Former research wildlife scientist for ADFG. Conducted wolf and deer research in Southeast Alaska for 22 years. Resigned in 2013 and now happily build muzzleloading guns in my shop on 18 acres in the mountains of Vermont."
Received August 26, 2015 - Published August 27, 2015
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