10 Jun 2008, 12:15pm
by admin

Wolves prove very costly for ranchers

By KIM BAKER, vice president of the Montana Cattlemen’s Association, 6/06/08

There have been heated debates about wolf recovery in our state for the last 11 years. Ranchers and sportsmen have grudgingly accepted the fact that wolves are now part of the landscape in Montana. However, to what extent do we have to tolerate them?

Officials have stated a pack of wolves exist in every 16-square-mile area. One pack will kill at least one large animal, such as a moose, elk, deer or livestock, every three days. There were 60 known packs inhabiting the western part of the state in 2006. To survive, these wolves must consume up to 7,300 head of large animals per year. As these packs increase in size, that consumption number will also increase.

When Lewis and Clark traveled through the Bitterroot, long before the settlers started limiting the number of wolves, they were close to starvation and were forced to eat their horses due to the lack of wild game. During the time when wolves were prominent, many homestead histories tell of deer and elk being very scarce. In an effort to increase the elk population, elk were transported from Yellowstone National Park by train and released throughout the valley.

There is now an abundance of game in most western areas. But like any predator, a wolf is most likely to make a meal from easy prey, such as the slow, weak, young or sick, as well as livestock in a fenced pasture on private ground where their meal cannot easily escape.

Most livestock producers are not fortunate enough to have public land-grazing leases, which are only used about four months out of the year. Most ranchers have private leases and their own high mountain pastures, where they graze their livestock during the summer. These grazing practices help reduce fuels during the fire season and also provide ranchers the time needed to harvest their crops in the valleys.

Since the reintroduction of wolves, ranchers have incurred many livestock losses. In some cases, there is not enough left of the livestock carcass to prove a confirmed wolf kill, thus preventing financial remuneration for the loss. We regularly hear of conflicts with wolves, either with livestock kills or other confrontations with the public.

I have visited with fellow ranchers from the western part of the state and they have encountered similar experiences. Ever since wolves have been found in or around our leases and pastures, we have lost three to five head of calves/cows that would not come in during the fall. This year we were out 12 calves and three cows, so the losses are increasing substantially. There is a known pack of wolves that range in the same area as our cattle. A state employee has confirmed sightings of the pack. This year’s livestock losses have cost our ranch over $10,000, for which we have not been reimbursed.

A rancher northeast of Hamilton recently lost seven head of cattle, but was reimbursed for only two. He fixes fence daily due to the wolves running the elk through his pasture fences and is now feeding 150 to 200 head of elk as well as his cattle. This rancher believes there may actually be two packs, as he sees one to five wolves daily.

In another example, a Dixon rancher has seen several wolves on his property, with two confirmed livestock kills. He has reported 18 animals missing out of a herd of 125 mother cows. This ranch does not have a public lands lease, but is all private property pasture to the south of his house. He is working with a wildlife specialist.

In Niarada, a wife watched her husband being stalked by wolves as he was moving cattle horseback. They are missing 20 head of cattle.

A Sula rancher lost two 750-pound yearlings and one Labrador retriever. The ranch was reimbursed for the loss of stock and wildlife specialists destroyed the pack.

These are only a sample of losses ranchers incur from wolf attacks. Other losses that impact producers are loss of weight and cattle that will not breed due to stress, ranges that cattle will no longer inhabit, maintaining fences that both livestock and wildlife are being run through, and veterinary bills for livestock that survive a wolf encounter.

Ranchers are paying dearly for the reintroduction of wolves in Montana. Wildlife services are funded through an assessment of our livestock taxes, but it is not nearly enough to keep up with the losses. In an article written last December by Mark Boatman, it was stated that wolves brought in an estimated $35 million annually for tourists to see the wolves. If some of those tourists saw a wolf making a meal from a live, defenseless calf or elk, that would quickly change.

Someone is profiting from the wolves, but it is surely not the rancher or the sportsman!

Note: USDA 2007 Wolf Activity Report - United States Department of Agriculture, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, Wildlife Services - Excerpt from USDA 2007 Wolf Activity Report (page 9) - RELATIVE LIKELIHOOD OF PREDATION ON LIVESTOCK BY EACH SPECIES

- individual wolves were about 170 times more likely to kill cattle than were individual coyotes or bears. Individual wolves were about 21 times more likely to kill cattle than were individual mountain lions in 2005.

- individual wolves were on average about 21 times more likely to kill sheep than were individual bears, about 7 times more likely to kill sheep than were individual coyotes, and about 5 times more likely to kill sheep than were individual mountain lions.



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