Questionable policy for large carnivore hunting
Creel, S.;Becker, M.;Christianson, D.;Droge, E.;Hammerschlag, N.;Hayward, M.W.;Karanth, U.;Loveridge, A.;Macdonald, D.W.;Matandiko, W.;M'Soka, J.;Murray, D.;Rosenblatt, E.;Schuette, P.
Terrestrial large carnivores are in rapid global decline, with consequences for ecosystem structure and function. Among drivers of these declines, legal hunting is unique because it is intentional and thus relatively easily controlled. Although regulated carnivore hunting potentially reduces conflict and provides revenue for conservation, it can also drive population declines (1–5). Some policies regulating carnivore hunting address negative effects on demography and population dynamics, but others do not. Here, we use wolf harvesting in the western United States to illustrate four aspects of policy that do not align well with ecological theory and data, and we suggest resolutions. Policies regulating human effects on lions, cougars, leopards, and tigers have responded to research by moving to better evaluate and mitigate demographic costs (1, 2, 5, 6). For example, policies for lions (Pantheraleo) include temporary hunting closures to allow population recovery (5) and reduced quotas with sex- and age-limited harvesting (2). Nonetheless, hunting policies for large carnivores still often suffer from a lack of science-based guidance. For example, policies for harvest of wolves (Canis lupus) in the Northern Rocky Mountains Distinct Population Segment (NRM DPS) suggest that annual harvest of up to 50% of the population has little or no effect on dynamics. Wolves were reintroduced in the mid-1990s, and the NRM DPS grew steadily until 2009 (see the chart, part A). Legal hunting began immediately after removal of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) protections in 2008, occurred in 3 of the 5 years considered here (2009–10 and 2011–13), and continues today. A recent review of current policies by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) concluded that harvesting “has not increased any risk” to the NRM DPS (7).

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