Predator update provided at Fremont County Farm and Ranch Days
Published on Feb. 15, 2020
During the Fremont County Farm and Ranch Days Feb. 5 and 6 in Riverton, County Trappers Tracy Frye and Dave Fowler provided an update on predator management in Fremont County.
To begin the discussion, Frye explained he and Fowler’s responsibilities as county trappers.
“First and foremost, our job has to do with livestock depredation,” Frye said. “This is given priority when someone loses a lamb, calf, colt or any other kind of livestock. We are the ones who show up and determine what predator killed the domestic animal.”
“Each predator has a signature way it likes to kill its prey, which helps us determine exactly what killed the animal,” he continued. “After skinning the animal and looking at the hide, we can tell with almost 100 percent accuracy what killed it.”
Fowler chimed in, “It is really important to understand what is doing the killing so we can make a decision on what we need to do to help our producers. I have had instances where there are a lot of wolf and coyote tracks around the kill, but upon further investigation it was actually a bear that did the killing.”
Fowler explained producers may be able to tell the difference between a coyote and wolf kill by looking at kill site and the animal.
“Coyotes typically grab ahold of their prey by the throat and wolves don’t,” he explained. “A lot of times with wolf kills, there will be hemorrhaging under the skin but no puncture wounds on the animal.”
Fowler also noted wolves are able to carry off the kill whereas coyotes are usually only big enough to drag them off.
While most of their time is spent dealing with coyotes, Frye explained their work is diverse and they also deal with wolves, bears and mountain lions.
“It’s rats, bats and cats for us,” said Frye. “If a person has a rattlesnake in their garage, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department (WGFD) and the police department want nothing to do with it, so we get the call.”
He also noted they took a part in the re-introduction of the black-footed ferret.
“The WGFD started re-introducing black-footed ferrets back into Wyoming years ago, but when the ferrets went out into the environment, they had no idea what a coyote was and it was over before it started,” said Frye. “We went in and took a bunch of coyotes out of those areas so the ferrets started to flourish and their population came up.”
Trophy game areas
Frye an Fowler explained in Fremont County mountain lions as well as both black and grizzly bears are considered trophy game animals, which means individuals have to purchase a license to shoot at them. The Dubois area is also a trophy game area for wolves, which the rest of Fremont County has predator status on wolves, which means they can be shot at without a license, similar to coyotes.
Frye noted it is especially important for producers to determine what made a kill in trophy game areas.
“If we or WGFD can verify a trophy game animal killed the livestock, producers will get reimbursed,” said Frye.
Frye note the vast majority of work in Fremont County is done on coyotes.
“We have a lot of coyotes and a humongous area to cover. In fact, Fremont County is bigger than both Connecticut and Rhode Island,” he said.
Frye told producers they kill 600 coyotes on average in Fremont County every year. He also noted the highest kill count they had was 1,507.
“We take about 80 percent of coyotes by plane every year,” Fowler added. “Fremont County is set up really well for aerial hunting because we have a lot of flat country and we don’t have the wind Casper and Rawlins have.”
Frye then addressed an inaccurate theory from a professor at the University of Montana stating if a population of coyotes is taken out, they will simply have more pups.
“The guy who said this had no basis for it whatsoever,” stated Frye. “It doesn’t matter if it is Tallahassee, Fla. or Muscle Beach, Calif., coyotes average 5.5 pups a year.”
“Now, the survival of those pups might be different,” he added.
While addressing a question from attendees, Frye explained wolves do not wipe out coyote populations, although coyote activity does decline when wolves move into the same area.
“In my opinion, coyotes are the most adaptable and intelligent animal we have in this country and their will to live is incredible,” said Frye. “When wolves move in, the intelligence of coyotes rears its head. Coyotes love to howl, but about the second time they get chased, they will stop howling so a lot of people don’t think they aren’t there anymore.”
“In 1995 and 1996, they turned the wolves loose in Yellowstone, and as some might remember, they told us wolves would never leave the park,” scoffed Frye. “Well, we had at least two kills in the Dubois area in 1997, so it only took a year for that to happen.”
Therefore, Frye noted they have been working on wolves a long time.
Fowler chimed in stating wolves are always on the move and they are able to move a great distance in a short amount of time.
“On average, in the western U.S., a coyote has about a five-section area, so if he has species to prey on, he will only be traveling a few miles,” explained Frye. “Wolves are much different. It is no big deal for a wolf to be 20 to 30 miles away within 24 hours. Usually we can depend on a coyote being back in the same area within three or four days but with a wolf it will be two weeks before they even come through the same area again.”
“The amount of wolves we take every year varies a lot,” stated Fowler. “The wolf damage last year was really slight, with most of the trouble occurring in the trophy game areas.”
While addressing a question from the crowd, Frye explained although he has seen more than one female in a pack breed, it is fairly rare.
“It is not super common for wolves outside of the alpha male and alpha female to breed, but it definitely happens,” said Fowler, who also noted they have a similar amount of pups as coyotes on average.
As Frye mentioned, he and Fowler, work with all types of predators. However, they deal with them on fewer occasions then they do with wolves or coyotes.
“We don’t have a lot of problems or numbers of mountain lions,” stated Fowler. “Since they are a trophy game animal, WGFD actually has to request our assistance to deal with them.”
He noted the same is true for black bear.
“Trouble has been pretty light for black bears and lions in our county,” Fowler added.
Fowler also noted dog and feral dog depredation falls in the hands of the sheriff, as dogs are considered private property, which makes it illegal for the county trappers to intervene without being requested.
A growing partnership
Frye explained he and Fowler have permission to work on the Wind River Indian Reservation and the agreement has been in place for nearly 15 years.
“This is a relatively new partnership,” said Fowler. “In the past, we have been allowed to do work on the edges of the Wind River Indian Reservation, but we never really worked inside.”
“However, our partnership is growing. In fact, about two years ago, the tribes asked us to help with wolf depredation with folks who have grazing allotments on the reservation. It was a pretty big deal because it was the first time they have ever asked us to do that,” Fowler continued.
Hannah Bugas is the assistant editor for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to firstname.lastname@example.org.