Wolves In North America Losing Their Genetic Diversity….


September 19, 2014

I thought this was worth reposting, in light of the increasing wolf slaughter without seeming end.


February 7, 2012

The mass slaughter of wolves over the centuries in North America has caused more damage then we could ever have guessed. As far-fetched as it sounds it could push wolves to extinction.

A 2004 study in New Scientist found wolves in Canada have lost 43% of the their genetic diversity. This is very concerning, it means wolves are becoming increasingly inbred. This can effect them negatively in so many ways. Weaker immune systems unable to fight off disease,  skeletal deformities, the inability to withstand increased hunting pressure, smaller litters.  It’s a shocking find, yet very little attention has been given to this important study.

The hunt slaughter, taking place in the Northern Rockies, could have far-reaching implications. The 432 wolves who’ve been killed in the hunts took their genetics with them, they won’t be coming back. All this killing is weakening the wolf. Could they be wiped out by an epidemic, due to their diminished genetic diversity?

Are either of the fish and game agencies in Montana and Idaho concerned about wolves loss of genetic variability? Isn’t it their job to know and care about this? What about Yellowstone wolves? Their numbers have crashed several times. The iconic Druid Peak Pack is gone, taken down in large part by mange mites they were unable to fight off.

When Judge Molloy presided over the 2009 delisting lawsuit there were several  issues raised supporting wolves relisting,  including  the lack of  genetic connectivity of the three wolf sub-populations (Idaho, Montana, Yellowstone NP).  Unfortunately his ruling focused on just one, the USFWS decision to delist Montana and Idaho wolves, while keeping Wyoming wolves listed. Once Judge Molloy returned wolves’ protections,  in August 2010, the anti-wolf forces went to work and lobbied Congress to remove Northern Rockies wolves from the ESA,  without judicial review.  Sadly, the science was not mentioned again.


New Scientist

Wolves’ genetic diversity worryingly low

 by Gaia Vince

18:41 26 November 2004

Wolf eradication in the US has had a far more devastating impact on the genetic diversity of remaining populations than previously thought, a new study reveals.

Although wolves were systematically eradicated across North America over the last couple of centuries, it had been thought that the human impact on the Canadian wolf population – which is currently a relatively healthy 70,000 – was minor.

Conservationists therefore assumed that the Canadian population had the same level of genetic diversity that had existed in the 19th century – prior to the mass slaughter – and that small-scale re-introductions of these wolves into the US would lead to diversity on a par with this earlier period.

But these assumptions were wrong, according to researchers from the University of Uppsala, Sweden, and the University of California Los Angeles, US, who looked at the genetic diversity of the original wolf populations using DNA analysis. They used bone samples taken from grey wolves dating from 1856 – held in the National Museum for Natural History in Washington DC – and compared this genetic diversity with that of modern wolves.

“We found a 43% drop in genetic variability in the modern wolves,” said Carles Vila, one of the team. “It is impossible for the wolf populations to recover this important diversity, which enables them to adapt to different environmental challenges.”

Bears and lions

Vila notes: “It takes thousands of years of naturally occurring mutations to build up such diversity. And if the Canadian wolves – with such a large population remaining – have lost so much genetic variation, what is the situation for other endangered species in North America, such as bears or mountain lions?”

Wild wolves from across North America were captured and reintroduced to the Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming, US, 10 years ago with considerable success. For example, the population of elk was reduced to more sustainable levels, allowing vegetation to recover.

It was hoped that choosing wolves from across the continent would produce a population with high genetic diversity. But the new research shows this has not happened.

Isolated pockets

The researchers suggest the wolves’ limited genetic variation will make them more vulnerable to factors such as disease or environmental change, limiting the pack’s ability to survive in adverse conditions.

“The species now exists in such isolated pockets that it is impossible for them to breed across the gaps, so genetic diversity will continue to fall,” Vila told New Scientist.

Read more: http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn6730-wolves-genetic-diversity-worryingly-low.html


In 2007, geneticist, Dr. Ken Fischman, Ph.D, testified at an IDFG  open house on Idaho’s then wolf management plan.

Testimony Concerning The Idaho Wolf Population Management Plan – 2008

 Idaho Fish & Game Open House

Coeur D’Alene, Idaho, December 12, 2007

 Genetic Problems in Small Populations of Idaho Wolves

 Ken Fischman, Ph.D.

Sandpoint, Idaho 83864


 My name is Ken Fischman, and I live in Sandpoint, Idaho.  I have a Ph.D. in Genetics, and over 30 years of experience in Genetic research. I wish to address the question of the number of wolves in Idaho that would constitute a genetically viable population.

    Everyone has been impressed by the rapid increase in Wolf numbers since their reintroduction.  However, that was to be expected when wolves were first introduced into this area, in which the ecological niches for large carnivores were previously quite open.  As these niches are filled, wolf reproduction will likely slow down.

    I would like to put the 673 wolves in Idaho in geographical and comparative perspective.  The size of Idaho is 82,751 square miles. That works out as one wolf for every 123 square miles.  The Human population is more than 1,240,000, which means one wolf for every 1,842 people.

    ID F&G has proposed a minimum of 100 wolves and 15 Breeding Pairs as a statewide objective.

    A key principal in Population Genetics is that what is important for species preservation is not the total population, but the number of Effective Breeders.  ID F&G estimates that there are currently no more than 42 Effective Breeding Pairs in Idaho.(that is, wolves, not people)

    Because only a small fraction of a pack reproduces, that further decreases the genetic pool.  If Idaho’s wolf numbers are reduced to this level, it could lead to severe inbreeding, thus decreasing their genetic diversity, and making them more prone to a population crash under a variety of circumstances.

    The concept that the existence of over ten breeding pairs of wolves should justify removing wolves from the Endangered Species list is therefore biologically insupportable.  It is clear therefore, that this was a political, not a scientific decision, and has no basis in any established genetic or evolutionary principles.

     Inbreeding is far from the only danger to small populations. Even under the best of circumstances, the lives of wolves are precarious.  Any one of dozens of natural or man-made calamities, which could be weathered by large, dispersed populations, such as a virus epidemic, an unusually severe winter, change of climate, or loss of habitat, could wipe out such a small number of animals almost overnight, with permanent loss of their gene pool.

    Population Genetics guidelines estimates that a Minimal Viable Population is 500 individuals, and I calculate that the Number of Effective Breeders should be at least 50 pairs.

    Under any other circumstances, and with almost any other animal population, the numbers of wolves in ID F&G’s Statewide Objective would be considered, not a success, but a population in danger of extinction.

    This is the likely outcome if the number of Idaho’s wolves is reduced to the level ID F&G has proposed.

      No, in a manner of speaking, these wolves are not out of the woods yet.   A much larger, genetically diverse, and widespread population would be needed if wolves are to become once again a stable, permanent part of the forests of the Northern Rockies.

    Thank you for your time and attention.


What happens to a  species when genetic diversity declines?  Look to the wolves of Isle Royale.

Bone Deformities Linked To Inbreeding In Isle Royale Wolves

Science Daily

ScienceDaily (Apr. 2, 2009) — The wolves on Isle Royale are suffering from genetically deformed bones. Scientists from Michigan Technological University blame the extreme inbreeding of the small, isolated wolf population at the island National Park in northern Lake Superior.



Wolves will never regain the genetic diversity they once had. Instead of conducting more research into wolves decreasing genetic variability, it seems “wolf managers” will just try to guess if the mass slaughter of wolves in the Idaho and Montana hunts will weaken the species even further.  Russian Roulette anyone?


Photo: Courtesy Nature Cold Warriors

Posted in: Wolf Wars, biodiversity

Tags: wolves decreasing genetic diversity, Dr. Ken Fischman, Ph.D, IDFG, University of Uppsala, Sweden, UCLA, wolf inbreeding

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20 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I’ve said it time and time again – we need to take a long look at the Florida panther. They went though the exact same thing the wolves are now and because of it they have no genetic diversity which is the key for any species survival. An autopsy on a Florida panther that was stuck and killed by a FHP vehicle showed that he had some serious (yet recessive) genetic defects (rescinded testicle, short tail, a hole in its heart). We’re looking at the very real possibility that the Florida panther may become extinct in the next 15-20 years.

    Extinction is forever.


  2. I have expressed the idea of e-mailing Anderson Copper about this issue of the wolfs. What harm can it do but help with media getting the wolfs out there!! Just google and his site will appear and leave a comment to his staff! Please someone out there let me know what you think of this idea. Since I haven’t heard any feed back. Always Peace Sheila


  3. Here are additional comments by Michael Robinson of the Center of Biological Diversity on the lack of genetic soundness of wolf populations. When is this 9th district court going to make a decision? Who are they catering to by this delay? The only people getting any satisfation these days are the killers. What a tragic waste.



  4. I think getting the media involved is a great idea, if the media will pay attention and actually do a story. Mercy for Animals, a group that advocates for farmed animals, has done some undercover work that showed how horrific the treatment of the animals is. Once newspapers and TV stations paid attention and did stories, a lot of people were appalled and said they had no idea how bad things were. Until people know, often with some graphic details, they will not become involved, respond, or demand changes.


  5. Two potentially deadly health conditions need to be addressed:

    BSE, now spreading in elk in Rocky Mountain states. Will it infect wolf population?

    Canadian “heartworm” a newly spreading parasite infecting both lungs and heart (vector is coyote scat in soils).


    • 😦


      • dansk: :-((((((( , hvor der er mange myg— fugtigt, langsom død—


  6. I don’t know how much more of this I can take, and I am just reading. Imagine what is happening to the wolves, how much harder and harder they are working to survive, day after day! Greed and ignorance is destroying this earth, one creature at a time. It sickens me. It really sickens me!


  7. Perhaps what is needed now is one or many high profile figures, biologists, television presenters of renown and respect to come forward and make a tv series/film about the wolf, its history and the effect we are having, not only this animal, but by proxy, many others and get the news out there to millions of people and showing them that this affects all of us. Biodiversity is not a by-product of life, it is essential to its very existence. Am I correct in saying that there is no over-arching ‘World Wolf Group’ that is collecting all this information and represents the wolf in the vital areas, meetings, seminars etc? Who speaks for the Wolf? How about a presentation at the ‘Ted Talks’?
    Unfortunately it seems to me that we have, for our own simian reasons, largely become separated from Nature to such an extent that we are losing the wisdom that our forebears had. I think I read that wolves were considered being introduced in parts of Italy, but the humans who live there have no idea how to live with them any more, the knowledge has gone. With native people of old there was generally some acceptance of the wolf (and others) who had their place in the scheme of things and each and every living thing had a purpose (‘under heaven’, if you like).
    Its true that 90 percent of all life that has ever existed on this planet has gone for good, largely by Natures own hand, that’s just the way of things and it will happen again one day. But now we are aware of our machinations the difference now is that we have a choice.
    I say we are aware, as much as science can tell us, and it can tell us much, I quote from Barry Lopez’ fine book, ‘Of Wolves and Men’ now revised with an afterword in which he says,
    ‘Many of us now seem to subscribe to the idea that wild animals are not mechanisms. They cannot be summed up, any more than human beings can be summed up. Wild animals are intricately fitted in the world,an intricacy that, many speculate, goes further and deeper than the catch nets of Homo Sapiens’ neurological capacity to conceive.
    Reality is a mystery, to put it another way, and bound to remain so. And it may be as good an idea to live within the mystery as it is to stand outside it, possessed of the notion that it can be explained’.

    Or as Paul Simon put it in his great song, ‘Slip Slidin’ Away’

    “God only knows
    God makes his plans
    The informations unavailable to the mortal man”


  8. HI Sheila
    I would send as much information to any major media outlet that may consider posting or making air time for this issue. It may be a tie-in or a follow up to the spending bill, since Anderson Cooper covered it briefly at that time, though it was a bit too little too late. It could also become part of the sub-conversation related to other issues more current….The real need is to get this issue out to the broader public, and to make clear the political take over on the part of the National Rifle Association, the Cattlemen’s Association, ranchers in general, and of course, the totally unethical hunters!
    Thank you for your efforts.


  9. In a word this is TRAGIC….

    What can be done if the press, the national media are not willing to get behind this full force? What is discouraging is there was a recent poll asking Americans a hypothetical to see where they stand with nature and science……
    “A viable dinosaur egg is found…..you have the opportunity to watch it hatch…and see an animal that has been extinct for millions of years…a miracle….or you could have great seats at the super bowl..which would you take?”
    Sadly, MOST opted for the super bowl!!! This is why our rivers are nothing but open sewers…..people just don’t ‘get it’!




  11. Horrifying – State management is so inept and corrupt. Surely they know already they have doomed the species to extinction, yet that can’t even permit it the respect to allow the remnant populations to exist unmolested by ‘control’ methods’ and so-called ‘sportsmen’ (hunters and trappers).

    This is a biological crisis and needs to be treated as such. The Feds MUST re-list wolves and place them under protected status again – and enforce serious and effective monetary fines and prison time as punishment for anyone harming, killing or harassing wolves, bears, Florida panthers and other species-in-peril.

    It’s time to stop pussy-footing around and to stop our decision-makers from caving in to selfish, ignorant ‘special interests’.

    We are unraveling God’s tapestry for a few ‘party weekends’ – and we will suffer for it within our lifetimes.


  12. This is the worst news for a long, long time. Let’s spread as widely s possible and fight for a “wake-up call” – if it’s not already too late (pray not).


  13. They need to put them all in protection again screw sportsmen, hunters and trappers. Control Methods are bullsh*t cuz all the hunter has to do is say the wolves were attacking their herds. The wolves can’t Stand Up for themselves.


  14. It’s bad enough that wolf numbers are going down so far, but this genetic factor is dreadful news!


    • I know Brigid ): And they don’t care…shameful biologists..what good are they??

      For the wolves, For the wild ones,


  15. Of course.! When the population of any species is too small genetic inbreeding will occur. This is disasterous for the species, because the weakness are magnified. Look at purebreed dogs, cats, cows, etc. Any animal that humans have interfered with spells disaster for that species in the long run.


  16. To protect the female wolves and pups soon to be born in the Bitterroot Valley of Montana, I recently testified at the Ravalli County Commissioners Hearing in Hamilton and traveled to Helena yesterday to attend the Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks Hearing in Helena where I was allowed to give written testimony.
    Hope that they weigh the facts carefully before they make a decision about continuing the wolf hunt in the Bitterroot Valley of Montana.
    Toni A. Stark
    Truth About Wolves


  17. people are killing the nature systeem


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