Carly Sponarski completed her Master’s Thesis examining rural residents’ attitudes toward wolves and wolf management in southwestern Alberta in 2010 . The research examined the relationships between a person’s values, social trust and attitudes toward wolves and wolf management. In general, social trust in the agency has been identified as an important driver of attitudes towards environmental issues. Her research examined the variables affecting social trust in relation to wolf management issues. Data collected through a mail survey of residents in Southwestern Alberta was used to examine the mediatory role, social trust plays between a person’s values and attitudes toward wolf issues. A structural model was used to examine 571 responses over 27 questions.
The findings show that social trust in the managing agency does play a crucial role linking a person’s values to positive attitudes towards wolves. The results illustrate the important role played by agencies in determining their constituents’ attitudes towards wolf issues. From a broader perspective, this study suggests that communication, education and participation by local residents are key to manage environmental management conflicts, which inevitably have conservation implications for wolves in this area.
Cristina has completed her third and final year of field data collection and is finalizing her data analysis and completing her dissertation. This has entailed completing aspen ecology surveys, songbird point counts, focal animal (elk) behavior observations, and pellet transects. She has stratified her study area in three levels of wolf population: high, moderate, and low, and is comparing patterns of elk behavior and resource selection in these areas. She has put GPS collars on six wolves in the US portion of her study area. In Summer 2010 she began gathering data for her new elk and fire ecology study in Waterton Lakes National Park, which will be completed in the form of post doctoral research.
Eisenberg, C. 2011. Hunting and the Land Ethic. Fair Chase 25(3).
Eisenberg, C. 2010. The Wolf’s Tooth: Keystone Predators, Trophic Cascades, and Biodiversity. Island Press, Washington, DC.
Eisenberg, C. 2008. The varmint question: wolves are making elk behave like elk again. Fair Chase 23 (3):20 ñ 25.
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Wolf diet composition in a livestock grazing landscape
Project Objectives: Wolves are a species of growing concern in Alberta. At the request of the Fish and Wildlife division of Alberta Sustainable Resource Development (SRD), we initiated wolf work in the southwestern corner of the province, an area where wolf livestock interactions are of particular importance. Our overall research purpose was to document the impacts of wolves on domestic and wild prey, and provide information to wildlife managers and stock growers to help mitigate wolf-livestock conflicts
- document the importance of cattle in southwestern Alberta wolf diets during both grazing and non-grazing seasons
- evaluate southwestern Alberta wolf diets year-round using both GPS cluster visits and scat analysis
- examine differences in results between the 2 methods.
Summary of project results and accomplishments: Field work on this project successfully began at the end of April 2008 and was completed in October 2009. In total, four wolves from three packs were captured and collared with download capable Lotek 7000SU GPS radiocollars with a one hour duty cycle; the alpha and a beta female from the Castle Carbondale pack, the alpha female from the Crowsnest pack, and a beta female from the Bob Creek pack. Data were downloaded from the ground approximately every two weeks during the non-grazing season and every week during the grazing season. GPS data were analyzed for clusters of activity where a cluster was defined as any area where the wolf spent at least 3 hours and GPS locations were within 100m of each other. A portion of all clusters identified were visited in the field. In total, 698 clusters were visited. Of these, 299 were bed sites, 181 were kill sites, and 32 were scavenging sites.
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Because the GPS cluster technique may under represent the importance of small prey items in wolf diets we collected scat samples to augment information from kill sites, and ensure that our results were representative of total wolf diet. We examined 319 scats and identified 675 prey items (mean prey items/ scat = 2.12, SE = 0.05).
Both methods indicated a seasonal shift in wolf diets from wild prey during the non-grazing season to cattle in the grazing season. During the grazing season, cattle accounted for 45% of all prey items found at GPS cluster sites. Additionally, we observed several instances of scavenging, especially during the non-grazing season, 85% of which were visits to rancher’s boneyards. These piles of dead livestock are a growing problem in southwestern Alberta and have become more prevalent since the detection of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE, mad cow disease) in Canadian cattle in 2003. Prior to BSE, rendering trucks removed dead stock free of charge and used the carcasses in dog-food and cattle feed supplements to gain profit. However, changes in regulations by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency now prohibit the inclusion of specified risk material (SRM, tissues capable of transmitting BSE) in livestock feed, pet food, and fertilizer. SRM must be separated from other cattle parts and be disposed of separately, either by burial or incineration. Rendering companies pass on the costs of dealing with these new regulations to producers by charging for their services. This cost has become prohibitively expensive for local producers and many are turning to boneyards as an alternative. These boneyards are an attractant and food source for carnivores in southwestern Alberta.
Our study is the first to our knowledge to use the GPS-cluster method to assess wolf diets in a ranching landscape. This method allowed us to locate cattle that would otherwise be classified as ìmissingî when livestock producers removed cattle from grazing allotments at the end of the grazing season. In Alberta, the predator compensation program pays 100% of the market value for confirmed predator kills of livestock, and 50% of the market value for confirmed ìprobableî kills. The program, however, no longer pays for missing animals. Thus, missing animals are a main concern of livestock producers because they cannot be used to obtain compensation payments. Producers occasionally received compensation for animals found by our GPS cluster method. This was compensation that they otherwise would not have received.
Prior to our research, no information existed on wolf diet composition in southwestern Alberta, an area where cattle ranching remains a mainstay of the economy. There is high overlap between prime wildlife habitats and grazing lands, and livestock depredation by wolves is a serious concern, especially because the wolf population has increased in recent years. We have shared our results with producers and wildlife managers, and information about wolf movements and locations has been used to take preventative measures and increase vigilance to prevent further livestock attacks. For example, local ranchers have used information provided by this research to increase monitoring of a particular area, and to move cattle into a more secure location. In summer 2009, the Castle Stock Association tested the feasibility of a range rider program and we worked closely with that group as they developed their ideas. It is our hope that information obtained from our research will be used by wildlife managers to develop an effective regional wolf management strategy.
Future Directions: For her Ph.D. Andrea will be attempting to document the influence of livestock boneyards on frequent conflicts that ranchers have had with both wolves and bears in southwestern Alberta, and to find solutions to these conflicts.
Acknowledgements: Funding and logistical support for this research was provided by Alberta Beef Producers; Alberta Sport, Recreation, Parks and Wildlife Foundation; Alberta Sustainable Resource Development; Alberta Parks; Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada; Parks Canada; Safari Club International; and Shell. We thank G. Hoffman for assistance with wolf trapping and the field techs C. Tremblay, A. Loosen, P. Taylor, M. Hayes, J. Pittman, and C. Wilton. Thanks to M. Lankau, M. Epp, and P. Jones for help with scat analysis. We also thank the numerous land and livestock owners of southwestern Alberta without whose support this project would not have been possible.
Morehouse, A.T., and M.S. Boyce. 2011. From venison to beef: seasonal changes in wolf prey composition in a livestock grazing landscape. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment doi: 10.1890/100172