Predators a growing problem in Wyoming
October 15, 2009
Predators are a problem for most livestock producers in the West. Coyotes are the most consistent problem, but ranchers also lose stock to cougars, wolves and bears. Gene Hardy, a Wyoming rancher, is on the Wyoming Animal Damage Management Board (ADMB) and has lived with coyotes all his life, ever since he was growing up in the 1930’s.
“We have just as many coyotes now as we did then; they are not going away,” he says.
According to NASS (National Ag Statistics Service), the predator loss to agriculture across the U.S. in 2005 (the most recent survey) was about $127 million. Sheep and lamb losses that year were 224,000 head, with a lost value of $18.3 million. Cattle and calf losses amounted to 190,000 animals, with a value of $93 million. Goats and kids: 155,000 with a value of about $16 million.
“Some of the statistics indicate that for every dollar spent on predator control and management, you get a return value of somewhere between $3 to $7 of benefit. Our methods of control, here in Wyoming, involve working extensively with Wildlife Services, a division of USDA,” says Hardy.
“In our state each county has a predator management board, which obtains funding in various ways,” adds Hardy. “A long time ago it was done by a tax on property. You turned in your livestock numbers to the county assessor who gave an evaluation, and you paid that in taxes. That money was set aside for predator management. That system didn’t generate enough money for adequate predator control, so it was changed. Now the funding is obtained by a predator fee charged whenever the animal changes ownership, at brand inspection.
“But a few years ago the predator boards were basically broke,” Hardy says. “Those fees were not high enough to generate enough money to keep up with costs of predator control, and livestock numbers for the past 10 years have decreased dramatically, due to drought conditions. So the boards were really struggling to have enough funds.
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“We went to the legislature four years ago and in the beginning they gave us $6 million for the biennium.”
That money was funneled through the Wyoming Board of Agriculture to the Wyoming Animal Damage Management Board (ADMB).
The ADMB was set up to include a varied cross section of membership, with cattle and sheep producers, urban representatives, sportsmen, game and fish, BLM, FS, etc.
“This 15-person board has the responsibility to disperse the money to the county boards that have to present a budget and meet certain qualifications to be eligible,” says Hardy. “This money has been a tremendous help in managing the predators.”
There are 23 counties in the state, and 19 of them elected to participate.
Coyotes account for about 2/3 of the predator losses in Wyoming.
“We kill a lot of coyotes with aerial hunting,” Hardy says. “We are also allowed to use M-44s and livestock protection collars (a collar on a lamb or sheep that contains the poison 10-80, released when a coyote bites the neck or throat of the animal – killing the coyote). Those collars are not used much, but we do use the M-44, which is a cyanide gun. It’s triggered when the coyote pulls the top of it (a bait) and it shoots cyanide into the coyote’s mouth. We also use traps and snares.”
In Wyoming the ranchers and counties participate with Wildlife Services, who supply hired trappers. Some counties provide their own trappers and just work with Wildlife Services with aerial control, for instance. The state funds were recently cut by $300,000, however, and this left the programs quite short.
The new challenge is wolves.
“At this point in Wyoming this problem is totally out of hand,” says Hardy. “The government won’t delist them. The state recently filed a new lawsuit. A Wolf Coalition was formed a couple years ago, comprised of all the major ag organizations in the state, some sportsmen groups, some of the county commissioners, and some of the predator boards. They raised funding to participate in the lawsuit two years ago.”
Wolves were delisted by the judge in Montana, so the lawsuits went away. Then environmentalists re-filed and the judge put the wolves back on the endangered list.
“Now we are filing new lawsuits again,” says Hardy. “The Wolf Coalition may file a separate lawsuit or join with the state of Wyoming in their lawsuit.
“I am chairman of the state predator advisory board, with a representative from every one of the 23 counties. The wolves, which started out on the west side of the state are now clear down to the eastern side. They are killing game, to the point that our Wyoming Game and Fish commission has cut back on elk permits, and our moose population in the Cody area is almost gone. Outfitters say their business is practically dead. Sportsman groups didn’t protest when wolves were brought here in 1995. They sat back and didn’t say anything, but they are sure screaming now.”
Cougars in Wyoming are considered a trophy game animal and can be hunted if you buy a permit. A limited number are allowed, and when a certain number of females are killed, they close the season.
“If a problem animal is killing livestock, the Game and Fish Commission will make the decision that it is predatory and authorize the Wildlife Services to take out that particular animal,” says Hardy. “We can do that with a wolf, as well. Once a wolf makes a kill, Wildlife Services can try to take that problem wolf. Of course that’s after the fact, and you may not know which one was the offending wolf.
“We’ve had kills now on the eastern side of the state. A yearling steer was killed and verified as a wolf kill. Wildlife Services authorized that pair of wolves to be killed, but can’t find them now,” says Hardy.
Hardy says they have three or four times the number of wolves right now than what they were told would be the magical number to have a viable population, when they were first introduced.
“They keep changing the goal line,” says Hardy. “Some people are advocating that the whole state of Wyoming should be trophy game area for the wolf. We are opposing that vigorously. In the beginning, when USFWS introduced wolves, they said Yellowstone Park would be the only area for them, but no one told the wolves where the park boundaries are.”
They follow the game herds, and won’t stay in the park.
“We were supposed to get up to 10 packs in the state of Wyoming, and 10 packs in each state around the park, for a total of 30,” adds Hardy. “Now, they’re telling us they want 15 packs in Wyoming outside the park, and whatever wolves are in the park are not even counted. That means we’d have to support about 25 packs in total, because most of the park is in Wyoming. The state is really fighting this but whether we win or not will depend on which judge tries the case. We are hoping we can get the case heard in Wyoming rather than Washington, D.C.”
Black bears are also a problem in certain areas, and on the west side of the state the grizzly is a serious problem.
“If there is problem bear they will actually kill it, but for the most part they try to capture and relocate it,” says Hardy. “Usually the bear beats them back to wherever they came from, or causes a problem in his new location. The grizzly was delisted, but our Game and Fish has still not authorized any hunt permits, even though grizzlies are now classified as a trophy game animal.”
As of Sept. 21, 2009 a new ruling by U.S. District Judge Donald Malloy (Missoula, MT) returned the grizzly to “threatened” status, reversing the March 2007 USFWS decision that the population in Wyoming, Idaho and Montana had recovered to a sustainable level. Grizzlies in Yellowstone have grown in numbers from an estimated 200 animals in 1981 to more than 600 now, but the lawsuit filed by the Greater Yellowstone Coalition (based in Bozeman, MT) contended that the grizzly recover was tenuous. Thus hunting of these animals will not be legal, even though at least 20 grizzlies were killed last year by hunters in self defense, and many sheep and cattlemen suffer losses to grizzly depredation every year.