top of page
  • Writer's pictureCat Urbigkit

Wolf Damage Management




In response to some recent wonky reporting on wolf-livestock conflicts in Sublette County, I wanted to correct the record and provide some basic information and sources for further information. I write this as a Sublette County citizen and rancher, and not in my role as an elected member of the county predator board.


On Sourcing

Contrary to a local news report that the Sublette County Predator Board “confirms conflicts” and reported the board as the source for the numbers of reported conflicts, the board neither confirms conflicts nor provided the reported information.


The Sublette County Predator Board oversees and administers a predator control program in Sublette County that is designed to address animal damage. At annual meetings held each December, the board often hears from state and federal agencies that investigate animal damage complaints and oversee their own programs. It is those agencies that provide a summary of information about verified damage and confirmed kills by various species.

The predator board contracts with USDA Wildlife Services to conduct animal damage control (including investigating certain damage complaints) in the county, and the board cooperates with the Wyoming Animal Damage Management Board and the Wyoming Game and Fish Department (WG&F) as our activities intersect with their jurisdictions.


There are two zones for wolf management in Sublette County: an area where wolves are a trophy game animal, and the rest of the county where wolves are classified as a predator. WG&F’s jurisdiction over wolves is in the wolf trophy zone (where the county predator board does not have any authority for wolves). The county predator board contracts with Wildlife Services for wolf control in response to problems in the predator zone (where WG&F does not have jurisdiction for wolves nor responsibility to respond to problems with wolf depredation).


Conflicts

The media report included a statement that “wolf and livestock conflicts are not a daily occurrence in Sublette County” without providing attribution or appropriate context for that statement.


Agency reports that tally “conflicts”use the limited definition of conflict as confirmed kills or damage to livestock by wolves.


That’s not how most ranchers dealing with wolves on the ground would define conflicts, which may indeed be a daily occurrence. Thus, the reported conflicts are only “the bodily, tangible sign of the conflict (e.g., livestock losses to carnivores)” rather than the more intricate, persistent and sometimes daily interactions that can occur when the two species interact.


Because of a variety of factors (including successful efforts to deter wild carnivores and minimize damage, and not reporting every predator attack, attempted attack, or presence of wolves around livestock), only when bloodied livestock bodies can be confirmed by a government official does the situation rise to a confirmed attack that is classified as a “conflict” to be tallied by an agency.


A pack of wolves circling and harassing the cows at night, or repeatedly approaching a sheep flock and battling with their guardian dogs – those aren’t tallied as conflicts in agency reports, but a rancher would certainly classify them as such. A wolf’s unsuccessful attempt at depredation, or a wolf’s probing of a cow herd to seek out the most vulnerable – those are indeed conflicts to the folks out there dealing with it on the ground.

The Numbers

The recent media report also stated that “in 2021, the Sublette County Predator Board confirmed only three wolf-cattle conflicts in 2021, with one calf killed in the Upper Green, one calf bitten and injured near Bondurant and one injured yearling heifer which recovered and was sold for no loss.” Again, none of that information was from the SCPB, and the information is not consistent with the WG&F annual wolf report for that year.


A more accurate depiction of confirmed livestock losses to wolves is provided in the annual wolf reports published each year by WG&F. For 2021, WG&F reported 44 head of livestock killed by wolves in northwestern Wyoming where wolves are classified as trophy game.


When all confirmed wolf kills are tallied (both inside the trophy game area as well as the predator zone) the numbers are higher. According to the WG&F annual report for 2021, “Wolves were confirmed to have killed or injured 109 head of livestock (50 cattle, 53 sheep, 5 livestock guarding dogs, and 1 horse) statewide in Wyoming in 2021.” That report noted that 19 wolf packs were involved in at least one confirmed livestock kill.


The media also reported, “As reported by the Pinedale Roundup in November 2023, there were only nine wolves in Wyoming’s Gray Wolf Trophy Game Management Area that preyed upon cattle in 2023, down 30 percent from the 13 wolf-cattle conflicts reported in 2022.”


The reader should doubt the veracity of the claims made in that statement. While I haven’t seen the 2023 data, the language that “only nine wolves … preyed on cattle” isn’t consistent with previous wolf behavior or the vernacular used by wolf managers. When the 10-14-member Gypsum Mountain wolf pack kills a cow, that doesn’t count as one wolf killing a cow.


In addition, the number of wolf-cattle conflicts isn’t the same thing as the number of wolves involved in the livestock deaths, so conclusion of “down 30 percent” is illogical. There were at least 39 confirmed wolf-cattle conflicts in 2022 in the trophy zone for wolves rather than the 13 conflicts alleged in the local newspaper.


Altogether, according to the WG&F annual report for 2022, “Wolves were confirmed to have killed or injured 97 head of livestock (46 cattle, 46 sheep, and 5 horses) statewide in Wyoming in 2022.” It’s also worth noting that the 2022 report includes attacks on 5 colts on private land (two dead and three wounded), and that 11 wolf packs that use the trophy game area were involved in at least one confirmed livestock conflict (38% of the 29 wolf packs in the area).


Compensation

The newspaper reported, “Ranchers are eligible for significant compensation and reimbursement for confirmed livestock losses related to predation by wolves, grizzly bears, black bears and mountain lions in Sublette County and elsewhere in Wyoming.”


When it comes to compensation for wolf damage, the “significant compensation” for livestock losses only applies to livestock producers with confirmed kills and injuries in the WG&F’s trophy game area for wolves – not in the predator zone. As WG&F notes, all suspected conflicts between livestock and wolves are expected to be reported in the wolf trophy zone “because verification is required to qualify for damage compensation and/or for wolf management actions to be initiated.”

Compensation for livestock losses to wolves in the predator zone has been more of a “hit or miss” to the extent that producers experiencing losses do not always file for the compensation even when they have confirmed depredations. The Wyoming Legislature established a compensation program for confirmed losses in the predator zone, but the program later expired before it was recently reinstituted as a program of the Wyoming Department of Agriculture. This program does not compensate for missing livestock – only confirmed depredations. Unlike the WG&F program in which producers must have an attack confirmed by an agency specialist before any control action is initiated, producers in the predator zone do not have to have kills confirmed by an agency before initiating wolf control actions, so long as they are not seeking compensation. If they want compensation, then reported kills must be timely reported, investigated and verified, and the state or predator board may provide financial support for an agency control action to prevent further attacks.


As for the claim that Wyoming’s compensation programs offer significant compensation, it should be noted that the compensation only covers the direct effects of wolf predation on livestock.


As this University of Wyoming paper explains: “Indirect effects, such as wolf effects on weaning weights, and conception rates, may also reduce profitability. By not including indirect wolf effects, compensation programs may systematically undercompensate ranchers. We use a stochastic budget model of a representative cow–calf ranch in northwest Wyoming to estimate the economic impact of both direct (death loss and injured calves) and indirect effects (decreased weaning weights, decreased conception rates, and increased cattle sickness) of wolf predation. Our results suggest that short-run (i.e., year-to-year) financial impacts of wolf indirect effects may be as large as or larger than the direct effects. Including indirect effects implies that the compensation ratio (i.e., number of calves compensated per confirmed depredation) necessary to fully offset the financial impacts of wolves would need to be two to three times larger than current 7:1 compensation ratio used in Wyoming.”


The Ratio/Muliplier

The newspaper also reported, “The WGFD Commission sets specific ‘multipliers’ for different ages and sex of confirmed kills considering the livestock’s purpose for breeding or sale.”


The multipliers used by the WG&F are specifically established to compensate for missing animals that are believed to have been damaged or killed by a trophy game animal such as a wolf. State regulations provide for specific methods, factors and formulas to account for damage by trophy game animals including wolves, but it’s important to note that this compensation for wolf damage only occurs in specific circumstances where wolves are classified as trophy game animals, only applies to lawfully present livestock, if the landowner allows hunting, and only applies when damage has been confirmed by an agency.


Rather than “considering the livestock’s purpose for breeding or sale,” the multipliers apply only to specific classes of livestock (calves, lambs and sheep, yearling cattle) and do not apply to adult livestock.


According to WG&F Chapter 28 regulations (found by typing in Chapter 28 at this location), the multipliers only apply to "geographic areas determined by the Department to have terrain, topography, and vegetative characteristics that influence the ability of the claimant and Department to find missing calves, yearlings and sheep that are believed to have been damaged as a result of a trophy game animal, or gray wolf.”


WG&F does not compensate for more than the total known death loss less the number of losses from other causes. This program was created and is occasionally modified by the WG&F Commission due to advances in scientific understanding of large carnivore depredations on livestock.

For some great, science-based information about grizzly bear and wolf depredations in northwestern Wyoming, read this Master of Science Thesis by Clint Atkinson. Here’s an important takeaway: “Our research highlights a strong effect of the natural history of large carnivores on depredation risk. The risk of depredation by grizzly bears, an opportunistic omnivore, is strongly determined by cattle habitat selection. In other words, grizzly bears that depredate cattle will do so wherever cattle occur, potentially even in fringe habitat. The risk of depredation by wolves, an obligate carnivore, is strongly driven by where wolves occur and the nutritional demand placed on packs (e.g., pack size). When cattle occur within wolf pack ranges, the risk of depredation increases and is further heightened with larger pack sizes.”


The Atkinson thesis suggests, “Fair damage compensation is critical to successful large carnivore conservation as it incentivizes carnivores on working landscapes while ensuring economic viability in agricultural operations that share these landscapes.”

While some wolf advocates use national or statewide numbers to demonstrate that confirmed wolf depredation has little impact on the livestock industry, this is often used to discount or discredit the impact of wolf depredation, which occurs at the ranch or local level.


Numerous analyses conclude with results such as this one, “Thus, wolf depredation is a small economic cost to the industry, although it may be a significant cost to affected producers as these costs are not equitably distributed across the industry.”


297 views

Recent Posts

See All

Comentarios


bottom of page