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Guest Opinions

State Funding for Predator Management Proving to be a Huge Success

Written by Gene Hardy
    When settlement of Wyoming began in the 1800s predators were an ongoing problem for the pioneers. Their existence depended on their ability to manage predators to maintain livestock and sustain their way of life. Control of predators was essential for the pioneer settlers to survive. Since most of the population was rural and even people living in growing towns owned livestock of some kind, almost everyone had a vested interest in controlling predators.
    Over time, as Wyoming developed new towns and the population grew, many people became urban residents and further removed from agriculture. As a consequence, people who depended on ag for their livelihood became a minority in the state and had less support from the general public in their efforts to protect their livestock from predation.
    In the 1930s the issues of predator management and the associated costs came to the attention of the Wyoming Legislature. Legislation was passed forming predatory animal boards in all the state’s counties. The boards were charged by statute to form management plans to control damage from animals classed as predators to domestic animals, crops and private property.
    These boards were also charged with the task of protecting public health. Examples of this are rabies in skunks or contamination of public property by bird droppings. Pigeons are a prime example of a bird that can create this type of concern.
    None of this could be done without expending a considerable amount of time, money and manpower so a means to fund these efforts was devised by a county tax fee. This fee was an ad valorem tax on cattle and sheep owned by ranchers. Each county had the authority to set these tax rates. This plan operated for a good length of time. However, the shortcoming of the system was that there was no way to affirm, with accuracy, livestock numbers reported to the county assessor. Therefore, many livestock went unreported.
    In an effort to correct this shortage of funding, laws were changed to collect predator fees at the time of sale on cattle and sheep. Brand inspectors to this day collect predator fees in unison with brand inspection fees. Predator fees are then returned to the county from which the cattle or sheep originated.
    Many counties have experienced greatly reduced cattle and sheep numbers for a variety of reasons. Drought, predation and severe weather losses have been primary factors over the last decade. This has resulted in most predator boards across state operating on very limited funding. It’s left them unable to adequately pursue their statutory obligations. Many boards were literally on the verge of bankruptcy about four years ago and were unable to continue their statutory mandate of predator management.
    Agriculture leadership in Wyoming began to explore ways to restructure predator funding for the boards in order for them to survive. The Wyoming Wool Growers Association, the Wyoming Stock Growers Association and the Wyoming Farm Bureau, Wyoming Department of Agriculture and the Wyoming Animal Damage Management Board were organizations that led the effort. Wyoming legislators were approached with a plan to provide general fund money to predatory animal boards in adequate amounts to enable them to provide not only management of predation on domestic animals, but to allow them to consider losses of wildlife to predation, public health concerns, and private property damage in their programs. This effort resulted in a general fund appropriation of $6 million for the biennium.
    These monies were managed through the Wyoming Department of Agriculture and the ADMB and made available to any county electing to participate in this funding and willing to meet the rules set forth by the ADMB.
    Eighteen of the 23 county boards elected to participate immediately and one more county is in the process of gaining approval.
    Admittedly there was some reluctance to participate in this new funding because doing so required that local boards raise their fees for all livestock to the statutory maximum of one dollar per head. Goats, alpacas and llamas were added to the list of domestic animals on which predator fees must be paid.
    Results of the more adequate predator management are becoming apparent from the annual reports submitted by the participating county boards. People are beginning to realize that not only are domestic animals benefiting, but so is wildlife like deer, elk, antelope, sage grouse and turkeys where increase in numbers has been seen. This is of great benefit to all industry in Wyoming. Sportsmen and outfitters have increased wildlife available.
    The oil and gas industry will enjoy less objection to their activity if sage grouse populations increase as a result of predator control. The tourist industry will have more wildlife to view and enjoy and believe it or not there will still be predators for viewing by those who enjoy seeing them.
    The $6 million appropriation for the biennium has been well used and of huge benefit. I sincerely hope that our legislators will realize this fact and elect to continue the same level of funding in the future. If, or when, Wyoming assumes control of gray wolves in the state, the burden of predation will be even greater. For those reasons I urge everyone to let their legislators know how important this program is to the entire state.
    Gene Hardy is a sheep and cattle rancher from Douglas. He’s president of the Wyoming Predator Advisory Board and is also a vice president of the Predator Management Board in Converse County, serves on the Wyoming Board of Ag and holds a seat on the Wyoming Animal Damage Management Board. He’s president-elect of the Wyoming Wool Growers Association. He can be reached at 307-358-3640.