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Inadequate policies for hunting large carnivores

American Association for the Advancement of Science

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IMAGE: Lions are among the large carnivores that have been reduced world-wide by over-hunting. Here, a female lion rests in Zambia's Liuwa Plain National Park. This material relates to a paper... view more

Credit: Scott Creel

Many policies regulating carnivore hunting do not adequately acknowledge and address the negative effects of hunting on demography and population dynamics, authors of this Policy Forum say. Increasingly, numbers of large, terrestrial carnivores around the world are in decline, a phenomenon that holds consequences for ecosystem structure and function. Focusing on wolf harvesting in the western United States, the hunting ban for which was lifted in 2008, Scott Creel et al. highlight four ways in which current hunting policies do not align well with ecological theory and data. A clear illustration of this is in differences between states' estimates of wolf populations, where the Idaho population count decreased by 22.4% from 2008 to 2013, while the Montana count increased, a surprising result given reported decreases in wolf survival and reproduction at that time. The authors note that the result may actually be an artifact of variable routes of detecting animals in the two states; Montana recruited additional staff and volunteers to monitor the wolf population during this period. Carnivore hunting policies must account for different methods of sampling effort and detection, they say. The authors also highlight that while hunting policies follow borders, wolves do not. "The relatively constant number of wolves within the entire [Northern Rocky Mountains] has been taken as evidence that state-level policies do not increase risk for NRM wolves," Creel et al. write. However, it is important to evaluate policies, and their impact on wolf numbers, state by state. The authors emphasize that, although they chose wolves in the western U.S. to highlight, too often inadequate hunting policies for large carnivores extend beyond the iconic gray beasts of Rocky Mountains to other species.

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