Predator impacts, cooperative efforts discussed at WESTI Ag Days
Worland – Producers in western Wyoming deal with a number of challenges that impact production on their operations, but for livestock producers, large predators can create significant challenges.
Ranchers Charles Price of Sublette County and Mark McCarty of Cody discussed the influence that predators, specifically grizzly bears and wolves, have on their ranches during a panel discussion at WESTI Ag Days on Feb. 4.
Price and McCarty were joined by Mike Jimenez of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and Dan Thompson of the Wyoming Game and Fish Department (WGFD) to look at the cooperative efforts agencies are taking to solve problems.
History of predators
Over the last 20 years, the impact of large predators has changed. Price remembered the first incident of a grizzly bear attack on a calf in 1993.
“We have a large cattle allotment in the Upper Green River, and in 1993, we had a calf that was torn up,” Price said. “The younger folks didn’t know what caused it, but one of the older guys knew it was a bear kill.”
“In 1996, grizzlies were officially discovered in the Upper Green River,” he added.
The first wolf kill was confirmed in 2000.
“Wolf kills escalated rapidly,” he said. “After the wolf season for two years, wolf kills slowed down.”
In 2014, Price noted 68 confirmed grizzly bear kills in the Upper Green River grazing allotment. In 2014, eight wolf kills were confirmed.
McCarty noted similar experiences on his operation north of Cody.
“I grew up in the South Fork Valley outside of Cody. It wasn’t until the late 1980s and early 1990s when we started to have bear conflicts,” he said. “In July 1996, I saw our first bear on Two Dot Ranch, and we started to get verified bear kills shortly after that.”
Today, McCarty said that bears and wolves can be seen on the ranch every day.
Expansion of populations
Thompson noted that the expansion of the territory for large carnivores has been the theme of the past 10 to 20 years.
“As an agency, we’ve seen the expansion of these carnivores,” he said. “Our issues with grizzly bears used to be in a small part of northwest Wyoming in the more rugged terrain.”
“Over the past five years, we’ve seen populations increase. We are reaching critical mass, and bears are moving into areas they haven’t been in 100 years,” Thompson continued.
The result means more work for ranchers and landowners, he noted.
Outside of northwest Wyoming, Thompson also mentioned that mountain lion populations have also grown, particularly in the Black Hills.
“A lot of things have changed with carnivores over the past 10 years,” Thompson said. “Successful recovery leads to increased chances for conflict.”
With new challenges, Thompson said WGFD has added personnel to address the challenges associated with predators.
“Our program started with just one person, but we now have personnel in Cody, Lander, Jackson and Pinedale,” he explained. “One thing that Wyoming has done that is helpful is to provide compensation for the loss of livestock.”
From a management perspective, Price said that changes have been made in daily activities to accommodate for predator concerns.
“We added a rider on our grazing allotment, and all of our riders have hand-held radios in their cabins so they can connect with WGFD if we get a suspected predator kill,” Price explained. “We try to get an official to confirm the kill as soon as we can.”
Education of riders has also been important to ensure the safety of people working in areas where bears and wolves live.
“We’ve had to put more labor toward finding bear and wolf kills,” McCarty added. “If kills aren’t verified, we don’t get paid for the animal.”
“We are darn lucky to have the good compensation program we have in place in Wyoming. We try really hard to make sure we are accurate when we are reporting kills,” he also said, mentioning that other states don’t have the same beneficial programs.
“We have evolved,” Price said of the management of his ranch.
With both sides actively working to address the impacts of large carnivores, Price continued, “WGFD and FWS have been really good to work with. I’m not saying that we didn’t butt heads sometimes, but overall, we work together well.”
The most important component of ensuring a successful working relationship, Thompson mentioned, is developing trust between parties. Though disagreements sometimes happen, both Thompson and Price noted that respect is maintained, which helps agencies work with livestock owners.
“It takes a while to build up trust and become credible,” Jimenez noted. “The agencies have stepped up to do their best.”
“We try to be available and to respond as immediately as humanly possible,” Thompson said. “We’ve increased our personnel to accomplish that goal.”
“We feel like we are able to work with the agencies well,” McCarty added.
Jimenez noted, “Our positive relationship with ranches gets understated.”
Thompson said that working with ranchers is fairly easy, but social media has changed interacting with the rest of the public.
“In the early days, managing these types of conflicts was local,” Jimenez explained. “Over time, that encompasses a bigger swath of the public. Management of predators doesn’t just involve the local people who deal with the problem. We get a very strong reaction from people who don’t live near or experience them. It becomes very complicated.”
“The media feeds off extremes,” he continued. “If everything is working well, it doesn’t make the news.”
However, when conflict occurs or one side offers an extreme view, headlines pop up.
“We spend a lot of time justifying all of our actions,” Thompson added. “Social media has changed the game.”
“If people could understand on a larger scale how we work with predators and see the issue from a more toned-down standpoint, rather than the extremes, that would be helpful,” Jimenez said.
McCarty noted, “I wish people could see how successful the recovery plan has been. Populations of wolves and bears are strong.”
In next week’s Roundup, look for an update on wolves from Mike Jimenez of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at email@example.com.