Livestock loss: Yearling cattle subject to multiplier for damage compensation
The Wyoming Game and Fish Commission voted Jan. 26 to have the state wildlife department develop rules to compensate cattle producers for missing yearling cattle when trophy game animals are confirmed to have killed cattle and other cattle are missing. While producers are currently eligible for compensation for confirmed depredations on yearlings, the new rule will – for the first time – include a 1.25 multiplier for missing yearlings.
Proposed motion changes
The motion, by Commissioner Ralph Brokaw of Arlington, and seconded by Gay Lynn Bird of Douglas, will create a multiplier similar to the one currently used for calves and sheep killed by grizzly bears and wolves, which acknowledges when large carnivores kill and consume domestic livestock at higher rates compared to the current rate of field condition killings.
Even when a multiplier is used, the agency does not provide compensation for more than the total known death loss, unless the number of losses from other known causes is subtracted. For calves and sheep in areas occupied by grizzly bears, the agency uses a multiplier of 3.5 for every one confirmed kill. There are no multipliers used in the state for adult cows or bulls in the compensation program.
WGFD compensation factors
In areas not occupied by grizzly bears, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department (WGFD) uses a compensation factor of three-to-one for sheep kills by black bears and mountain lions, and a ratio of seven-to-one for wolf depredation on both calves and sheep in the trophy wolf area of northwestern Wyoming. The agency must now go through a rulemaking process to develop the yearling multiplier, with hopes to have it finalized by the end of this year’s grazing season.
Although WGFD staff had recommended the commission maintain its current compensation and multipliers while research continues on estimating yearling losses and detection rates, Brokaw made the successful motion after hearing an update from Clint Atkinson’s research on grizzly bear depredation on cattle ranches near Cody.
Impact study findings
Atkinson’s research over the last two years focused on three cattle ranches in the Absaroka region, located west of Cody and Meeteetse; and from the Wood River north to the North Fork of the Shoshone River. Using transmitter tags on calves, yearlings and cows, he has monitored more than 1,000 head of cattle in two years.
One ranch was able to detect one grizzly bear depredation on a calf in 2020, when Atkinson estimates there were nearly 12 actual depredations. In 2021, the ranch detected eight calves killed by grizzly bears, compared to the 30 estimated depredations.
A second ranch had no grizzly bear depredations during the monitoring period.
A third ranch found one calf which had been killed by a grizzly bear in 2020, of the six estimated kills. In 2021, the ranch found three calves which had been killed, of the estimated 13 grizzly bear depredations.
“Those detection rates certainly aren’t due to a lack of effort,” said WGFD Large Carnivore Specialist Dan Thompson, citing the amount of range riding conducted by the ranches.
Atkinson said his research supports the current grizzly bear management regime of removing grizzly bears that are chronic livestock killers. He pointed to one adult male grizzly, which had killed up to 27 head of cattle, with other bears following the livestock killer around the allotment. When this bear was lethally removed, depredations stopped.
No yearling cattle depredations were documented during the Atkinson study, and he suggested research on yearling depredations should take place where there are more yearling cattle in grizzly range, such as the Upper Green River region of Sublette County.
Wyoming-based association support
Sublette County Rancher Albert Sommers, president of the Upper Green River Cattle Association, supported the idea of expanding research in the Upper Green and provided the commission with information about calf loss rates to grizzly bears. From a two percent historic death loss rate prior to wolf and grizzly bear presence in the Upper Green, the loss rate has plateaued at about 10 percent, Sommers said, with some years as high as 15 percent.
Sommers said the association’s ranches would not be able to operate on this landscape without the compensation program to help make up for losses to large carnivores.
The Upper Green grazing association only began tracking yearling losses in 2010 and the loss rate to grizzlies’ ranges from 1.92 percent to 2.65 percent per year, said Sommers. Those percentages aren’t nearly as high as the loss rate to calves, but it has been increasing, he continued.
In 2021, confirmed grizzly bear kills in the Upper Green included two cows, 50 calves and 18 yearlings. These are just the confirmed kills, and do not include missing cattle.
Jim Magagna, executive vice president of the Wyoming Stock Growers Association, urged the commission to take some action now, without waiting for completion of further research on yearling depredations.
“Don’t make producers wait,” Magagna said, suggesting the agency provide a small ratio which can be adjusted later once more data is obtained.
In the end, this is the path the WGFD Commission decided to take.
Cat Urbigkit is a correspondent for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to firstname.lastname@example.org.