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Unreliable knowledge about economic impacts of large carnivores on bovine calves

Authors

  • Mark Hebblewhite

    Corresponding author
    1. Wildlife Biology Program, College of Forestry and Conservation, University of Montana, Missoula, MT 59801, USA
    • Wildlife Biology Program, College of Forestry and Conservation, University of Montana, Missoula, MT 59801, USA.
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  • Associate Editor: Scott McCorquodale

Abstract

Sommers et al. (2010) reported that recolonizing predators increased bovine calf mortality rates in the Upper Green River Cattle Allotment in western Wyoming. However, Sommers et al. (2010) failed to consider multiple competing hypotheses explaining calf loss rates, increasing the likelihood that their results are actually spurious. I reanalyzed their data using a multiple competing hypotheses framework that considered effects of livestock density, summer precipitation, bias in reporting rates, and whether mortality by different predator species was compensatory. I found support for a confounded web of factors influencing calf losses. Calf losses increased with livestock density (which increased during the study), but also during drier summers and with increasing rancher reporting rates. Although both wolves (Canis lupus) and grizzly bears (Ursus arctos) did increase calf losses, the presence of just grizzly bears alone did not significantly increase calf losses. Unconditional estimates of the effects of wolves and grizzly bears on calf losses were only 2.0% (95% CI 0.53–3.81), compared to 3.6% reported by Sommers et al. (2010). Most importantly, however, I report bias in favor of livestock producers in the authors' assumptions that cast further doubt on the rigor of their results. In conclusion, I recommend managers not consider the spurious predator compensation factors reported by Sommers et al. (2010) to be reliable. © 2011 The Wildlife Society.

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