Predator board updated on grizzly bear and wolf conflicts
Sublette County – The Sublette County Predator Board, which manages the county’s wild animal and bird damages, was updated about grizzly and wolf conflicts with livestock at its Dec. 3 annual meeting.
There were 91 confirmed grizzly conflicts with cattle, with the most in the Upper Green at 79, according to Wyoming Game and Fish Department’s (WGFD) Ken Mills. There were incidents near the Hoback Rim/Kendall, three along the east slope of the Wyoming Range and one near Bondurant.
Mills said conflicts rose this past year to as high as in 2015. North of Piney Creek, some black bear baits were removed after grizzlies hit on them. Board member Jacque Downs said she lost 40 calves in the area.
“It puts a hunter at risk,” Mills said of grizzlies frequenting the sites. “Anywhere in the Wyoming Range it’s possible to have grizzly bears now.”
Ten bears were captured, six were relocated and four were lethally removed, Mills said. The state is taking steps to petition U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to delist the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem grizzlies, which have been recovered in numbers for many years, shared officials.
Recently the WGFD Commission approved its portion of the Tri-State memorandum of agreement it has with Idaho, Montana and federal wildlife agencies.
Election of board members
Board Secretary/Treasurer Cat Urbigkit and President Pete Arambel along with Kay Malkowski represent sheep ranchers on the board. Members Kevin Campbell and Jacque Downs are cattle ranchers and Josh Downs represents sportsmen interests. Cattle member Clay Olson didn’t attend.
The first order of business was to elect two sheep-producer members – Urbigkit and Malkowski were nominated and elected. The second order of business was to elect officers, and likewise, Arambel will continue as president and Urbigkit as secretary/ treasurer.
Later, Campbell moved to keep the county’s predator fees as they’ve been at the minimum required by the state because the county board hasn’t raised these fees, and county commissioners pitch in with predator control funds, up to $50,000 a year.
Anyone who has paid predator fees on brand inspections can attend and vote in these annual elections and semi-annual meetings.
Wolf conflict and delisting
Where wolves are delisted in Wyoming, WGFD manages them in the permanent and seasonal trophy-game area.
Mills reported only three cattle conflicts were confirmed 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.
He introduced Large Carnivore Specialist Clint Atkinson in place of Zach Turnbull, who was transferred to Greybull. Atkinson has worked with large carnivores since 2013 and started working locally last summer.
“Get Clint on your radar – call Clint first,” Mills told the board.
Mills said FWS is in the process of preparing a 12-month status review for the Northern Rockies and western U.S. gray wolf population after two petitions were filed seeking their relisting.
“We have to demonstrate we’re living up to our management plan,” he said. “Things are very stable with wolves in Wyoming.”
With the population reduced in the trophy-game area, fewer wolves will need to be killed, Mills said.
Outside the lines
The meeting business also included reports from Wyoming Wildlife Services State Director Mike Foster and Brady Smith from Casper and FWS part-time Trapper Jeff Hansen.
The Sublette County Predator Board contracts Wildlife Services for aerial gunning and trapping of wolves, coyotes, foxes and other predators outside the state’s trophy game zone.
Foster said the COVID-19 pandemic and federal vaccination requirements have already affected the state’s program, noting, “Probably 25 percent of our workforce is unvaccinated. It’s a big concern for us.”
Their Rock Springs pilot quit after refusing to be vaccinated leaving only two fixed-wing pilots to cover the state. Foster said the agency would like to have eligible fixed-wing pilots contact him.
“It’s affecting us right now and affecting everyone in Sublette County,” he said.
Foster said private pilots might be in a position to do some flying for FWS, but they would need to follow federal requirements and other local restrictions. Also, ranchers must first report a problem to the predator board before any control actions can be taken.
“Two years ago, FWS received a chunk of money from Congress just dedicated for nonlethal projects,” Foster said.
Wyoming has about $80,000 stipulated for nonlethal predator management and Foster shared, “There’s a big emphasis on range riding, so riders can ride through allotments and find and report losses.
Smith acknowledged nonlethal tactics aren’t always effective on grazing allotments, but he’s hoping to cater to producers’ needs as best as they can.
“We don’t have high expectations to keep [grizzlies] out, but if a range rider can be of any assistance, we would like it to be as effective and efficient as possible,” he said.
Hansen said Pinedale Rancher and House Rep. Albert Sommers asked about setting up packs of guard dogs with handlers in a camp.
Smith asked Mills for his thoughts on using dogs to move bears along. Mills said the bears are under FWS authority; a livestock producer might request a nonlethal dog pack as such in connection with the Forest Service and FWS.
“They might herd them away from one deal, but by the time you get to another, they’re back,” Campbell said.
“I struggle to wrap my head around this and how to make it beneficial and productive,” Smith said. He notes he will be hiring in the first half of next year if the board “knows any good cowboys looking for work.”
Wildlife Services lethal work
Wildlife Services put in hours of field work plus 90.5 aerial hours for the county and took 136 coyotes, two predator gray wolves plus numerous magpies, ravens and starlings. Predators killed a calf, two sheep, five lambs and a cow.
Recently Hansen was watching five black wolves and one gray that are running between Boulder and Paradise Road. He caught a black female, collared her and released her to go back to the pack.
“Then if we decide we need to go remove the pack we’ve got the go-ahead,” he said.
Arambel asked if the FWS helicopter could take those out; Foster said it would “handle just fine.”
Hansen also planned to take out another larger male wolf running solo.
“Get them out of there before we have a lot of damage,” Arambel said.
For the coming year, Sublette County is contracting Hansen for 128 hours, according to Urbigkit.
The 90 fixed-wing aerial hours for predator work was really not enough, they agreed. “It was pretty rocky this year for us in terms of aerial hours,” Urbigkit said. “The pilot was not very comfortable flying in some of our country. It was really frustrating with the drought, that we had to stay on just a few water sources with our stock; they just got slaughtered.”
Cotton Bousman said his losses were worse than they’d been for some time, up to four or five percent, calling it the “threshold of an acceptable level of loss.”
Adams was given the authority to authorize prize money for predator-killing contests, if asked.
Urbigkit said FWS was paid $52,105 last year; all told, the board paid out $60,000.41, and the board moved to set a top limit of $58,000.
Joy Ufford is a corresponding writer for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to firstname.lastname@example.org.