Livestock depredation: Sublette County Predator Board addresses reporting and compensation
Boulder – On March 30, the Sublette County Predator Board hosted a workshop for ranchers whose cattle and sheep are preyed upon by gray wolves, mountain lions and grizzly and black bears.
The audience heard from a panel of county, state and federal employees and answered questions in regards to finding dead or injured livestock.
U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Wildlife Services Manager Rod Merrill, Wyoming Game and Fish Department (WGFD) Large Carnivore Specialist Clint Atkinson and USDA’s Farm Services Agency (FSA) Wyoming Program Specialist Annie Bryce spoke during the workshop.
Merrill explained if a rancher or rider finds a suspicious kill, the first important piece of information to consider is “where the kill occurs.”
This determines what agency might offer compensation for losses.
If a suspected wolf kill is within Wyoming’s Gray Wolf Trophy Game Management Area (TGMA), it’s managed by WGFD. The state wildlife agency also manages livestock problems with black bears, grizzlies and mountain lions anywhere in the state.
To be reimbursed for livestock losses in the TGMA, a kill must be con- firmed as soon as possible by WGFD or by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services (FWS) investigators. WGFD decides on a solution – if a predator should be relocated or removed.
For wolf kills in the state’s predator zone, the county board asks FWS to step in. On public lands, FWS has federal authority. On private property, FWS needs a written “permission slip” from a landowner to enter and investigate, according to Merrill.
Ranchers can also call any member of the Sublette County Predator Board, listed on the county’s website.
It can be difficult to find injured or killed livestock in a timely manner, especially in summer with larger herds turned out to pasture, thousands of acres of grazing allotments, heat and other wildlife damages.
All of the agencies have good working relationships and respond to reported kills within a day. Time is of the essence, Merrill explained.
He said the scene should be preserved so an investigator can read what happened.
Predator Board President Pete Arambel asked about covering a carcass with a tarp. Merrill said it might help prevent some scavenging. Photos of tracks around the kill and videos can be helpful, but he would “be uncomfortable with only pictures for information.”
Atkinson said he or someone trained has to examine the kill “in person” and look for bites and bruises under the hide. But if a kill is found hours away on horseback, for example, he would examine the hide if a rider brought it out. The main thing is to call WGFD as soon as possible, he said.
Once a kill is confirmed, the respective agency writes an affidavit which must accompany a damage claim.
For WGFD compensation, ranchers must report total confirmed kills within 15 days of the end of the season, with the official WGFD damage claim and affidavit of confirmation.
The WGFD Commission sets specific “multipliers” for different ages and sex of confirmed kills considering the livestock’s purpose for breeding or sale.
Limited rough terrain tools
Rancher Cotton Bousman pointed out in remote, rugged wolf predator zones, ranchers usually don’t find missing livestock in time
for predation to be confirmed, especially at the south end of the Wind River Range.
This means FWS responds only after a loss occurs; he would like “more money to manage wolves in the predator zone.”
“Four years ago, 10 wolves were killed between Thanksgiving and Christmas,” Bousman said. “I got zero compensation that year. FWS is the only tool we have in the predator zone.”
FWS tried to use its helicopter several times in a very rugged landscape. The cost of removing a wolf depends on a lot of factors, Merrill said.
“It varies from area to area,” he said. “It’s easier to kill a wolf in the Upper Green River than over in rock piles.”
FWS will invest in several summertime riders whose job is to look for dead or injured livestock.
Wyoming Department of Agriculture (WDA) covers FWS’ wolf work, and it could be worth asking the state for “more money to get our damage level down,” Arambel added.
The legislature set aside compensation money for the WDA, but the program ends in June.
Other national compensation options
Another compensation option for livestock losses – with a very wide umbrella – was explained by Bryce.
The national program compensates for livestock losses at market value and isn’t used to its full potential, Bryce explained.
These include confirmed predator-zone or TGMA wolf kills. Accepted losses also include blizzards, drought, larkspur, algae blooms, vehicle accidents, unaccounted after roundup and even old age, she said.
Ranchers need to report “any sort of losses” within 30 days, Bryce said. “Once a loss is reported, FSA opens a file, and a producer has until the end of the year, Jan. 30, to apply for pay- ment.”
The producer must keep very good “proof of death loss” herd records, as well as photos with dates, information about nearby wolf or bear sightings and any other factors which could add to proof of losses.
A photo of dead cows in a patch of larkspur adds weight to the claim, Bryce said.
“Ranchers will need to convince their FSA county committee it is an eligible cause of loss,” she said. For example, if 300 cows go out to summer pasture and the producer is 20 short when gathered, call FSA each time and file it all together at the end of the year, Bryce advised.
Joy Ufford is a correspondent writer for the Wyo- ming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to firstname.lastname@example.org.