Management agencies deal with wolf impacts on livestock, wildlife in western WyoWritten by Joy Ufford
Bondurant – Wolves killed a fifth beef calf in Hoback Basin in mid-February, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) confirmed the following day.
The protected wolves also continue to target elk, killing about 50 wintering on Bondurant’s two feedgrounds under Wyoming Game and Fish Department (WGFD) management.
FWS Wolf Program Manager Mike Jimenez confirmed the recent livestock kills, and FWS, with the USDA Wildlife Services (WS), has targeted the Dell Creek pack.
In February, Jimenez estimated the pack at 10 to 12 wolves and the Hoback Basin’s Rim Pack at seven to eight animals. However, WS spotted 16 wolves in the western pack last week and killed five total in the general area of the cattle, leaving 11, he said in an email updating the count.
“The Dell Creek pack uses this area and was located the following afternoon very close to where the recent livestock was killed,” he said Feb. 24. “We put radio collars in that pack early this winter. We have requested WS to remove three wolves, which will probably happen within the next week. Every attempt will be made to not remove radio-collared wolves so that we may continue to monitor the pack.”
In the case of livestock kills, FWS can authorize wolves’ removal, and WGFD compensates ranchers for confirmed wolf-kill losses.
It’s a different scenario when the kills are wildlife, even at WGFD elk feedgrounds, where neither the state nor the federal agency can do much but keep count.
Feeders at Hoback Basin’s Dell Creek and McNeel feedgrounds have reported wolf-killed elk through this winter with a handful on Dell Creek and the vast majority at the McNeel site on private property leased by WGFD. Both are adjacent to wintering cattle, horses and other livestock.
“I don’t have the exact numbers, but we are estimating about 40 to 50 elk have been killed by wolves this winter at the Bondurant area feedgrounds,” said John Lund, WGFD Pinedale regional wildlife supervisor.
He said the kills don’t show a preference for young or old animals, adding, “There’s a little bit of everything in there.”
Lund said a lot of elk are wintering away from the feedgrounds, perhaps due to wolves’ presence or in part because of the relatively mild winter.
“It was a different year for sure,” Lund said of the elk killings. “We’re unsure if that’s going to be a long-term thing or not.”
However, he noted, these wolves “are out of our control.”
Jimenez said he met with WGFD to discuss the feedground kills.
“WGFD told us about the issues on the McNeel Feedground,” he said. “They said they were not so much concerned about wolves killing elk but more concerned about wolves displacing elk off the feedground and onto adjacent private land with cattle or onto the highway.”
Residents have reported seeing what appeared to be tracks of stampeded elk to Highway 191 and beyond, as well as wolf numbers higher than the FWS counts. Jimenez said because of federal protections, neither FWS not WGFD could control wolf incidents at feedgrounds.
“I explained to WGFD how the 2014 court ruling that reversed the FWS delisting rule for Wyoming reinstated federal protection of wolves throughout the entire state of Wyoming as nonessential experimental and required us to manage wolves based on the 1994 10(j) rule,” Jimenez said.
“This rule allows us to lethally remove wolves that chronically kill livestock but does not allow us to kill wolves for impacts on wild ungulates. Under some circumstances, states could move wolves that were negatively impacting elk populations if they presented a detailed plan to the FWS. No state has ever moved wolves under these circumstances.”
Lund did say if the elk are pushed onto private property, WGFD could compensate owners.
“That’s one thing we can handle, damage to private property,” he said.
Wildlife biologists utilize distinct clues when identifying predator killsWritten by Saige Albert
Bears, wolves, mountain lions and coyotes can all be problematic predators in the sheep industry.
“Our four large carnivore species consistently leave different bite-mark patterns,” says Mike Boyce, Wyoming Game and Fish Department (WGFD) large carnivore biologist. “Each large carnivore species utilizes different techniques for killing their prey.”
Assessing predator kills
In identifying predator kills, Boyce comments that it is important to ensure that biologists are contacted as soon as possible to ensure that kills can be identified.
“It is key to try to preserve the evidence at kill sites,” Boyce says. “A lot of times, we may have dogs, horses or other livestock tracking through the sites. We need to be called right away so we can get in and do our work before evidence is lost to the natural elements.”
He further adds that it is necessary to have at least an intact hide or skull to determine cause of death in livestock.
“It is difficult to verify kills if all we have to work with is a pile of old bones,” he says. “Having a fresh kill to work with makes it easier for us to determine cause of death.”
When called onto a scene, Boyce says that he begins by assessing the site of the deceased livestock animal. For example, tracks and other clues may indicate what killed the animal.
Then, the biologist skins the animal to assess damage under the hide.
“A lot of times there isn’t much visible external damage,” he explains. “When we have the hide pulled back, we have a better image of what might indicate death.”
In addition to deceased animals, Boyce comments that “walking wounded” animals are common.
“We look at a lot of walking wounded animals, mostly cattle,” he adds.
Starting with bears, Boyce notes that both grizzly and black bears employ similar killing techniques.
“We often see canine tooth punctures and associated damage, most often on the mid-dorsal line along the back,” he explains. “We also often see damage to the head and snout.”
The bites result in significant damage and hemorrhaging under the surface of the skin.
Another common injury with bear kills is bite wounds on the withers or head, which is something that is almost always present in bear kills.
“After bears make a kill, they often cache their prey,” Boyce continues. “We see this with both bears and mountain lions. They conceal the carcass from other scavenging species.”
Wolves are another predator that impact livestock herds.
“We certainly look at a lot of wolf damage,” Boyce says. “With wolf predation, we see damage to the hind quarters, armpit area, throat, head and neck. It is also typical to see damage to the hamstrings.”
The damage from a wolf kill is more significant than from coyotes.
“Wolves have more biting force and cause a lot more hemorrhaging than coyotes,” he says.
Wolf kills also often have tooth channels present.
“We see tooth channels more in cattle than in sheep,” he adds. “When wolves make kills, they take multiple bites and cause significant damage.”
Another predator, the mountain lion, is both powerful and efficient.
“Mountain lions kill their pray by grasping with forepaws, and they usually take one targeted bite to the head and neck region,” Boyce says. “Occasionally they will bite the throat.”
Large diameter canine punctures are seen in the hide of animals killed by mountain lions.
In addition, lions usually select for lambs and calves over mature animals, as the young livestock are easier to secure and kill.
“With mountain lions and wolves, we sometimes see surplus killing where multiple animals are killed in one event.” he adds. “Lion kills are usually associated with some sort of cover, whether that is rim-rock, timber or vegetation. When they make a kill, they will usually move it to the closest cover.”
Lions also exhibit caching behavior.
Finally, coyotes can be a problem for livestock producers and sheep producers in particular.
“The Wyoming Game and Fish Department doesn’t manage coyotes,” Boyce comments. “Local predator management boards and USDA are tasked with working on coyote damage situations.”
However, it is useful for producers to be able to identify coyote kills.
“We see similar types of inflicted damage with coyote and wolf kills,” he notes. “The damage is usually smaller and more subtle with coyotes than with wolves as the canine teeth are smaller and coyotes have less biting force then wolves. We typically see damage at the point of the jaw, along the flanks and at the hind quarters.”
The size of the puncture marks and bite mark patterns can rules out other large carnivores species when determining cause of death.
After verifying the source of a livestock kill, Boyce notes that several actions can be taken.
“If the damage becomes chronic, we will attempt to capture the offending animals,” Boyce explains.
Bears can be captured in culvert or box traps or using cable snares, depending on the situation.
“We capture lions involved in conflicts using box traps,” he says. “We can also put snares to capture lions, or we use hounds.”
WGFD does not employ a “strike policy” for predators that are depredating livestock.
“We work with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service when federally protected species like grizzly bears and wolves are involved in livestock damage,” he says. “Bears that are captured and relocated are tagged, and grizzly bears are released with radio collars so that they can be tracked.”
In addition, WGFD has a compensation program for verified predator kills, excluding coyotes.
“In an open range setting, we pay three-to-one for bear and lion kills and seven-to-one for wolf kills,” Boyce comments. “We use a multiplier to account for missing animals.”
Boyce presented at the 2015 West Central States Wool Growers Convention, held at the beginning of November 2015.
‘The Real Wolf’ reveals facts, impactsWritten by Saige Albert
When Ted Lyon, a renowned trial lawyer, former Texas State Senator, legislator and author, first began looking at the issue of reintroduction of wolves, he took the side of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), arguing that, through his experience, he couldn’t see the agency taking steps that would harm wildlife.
“I couldn’t believe that the U.S. FWS would do something bad for wildlife,” Lyon told the Roundup. “I defended the issue of putting wolves back in Yellowstone. How could 66 wolves put into Yellowstone and the Frank Church – River of No Return Wilderness kill all these elk and moose?”
After a pheasant hunting trip in Montana in 2007, Lyon vowed to do research to find out whether or not wolves were impacting the ecosystem.
“I tried to defend FWS biologists to the men I was hunting with, and these guys from Montana jumped on me like a pack of wolves,” he says. “It piqued my interest.”
“Those hunters were right,” Lyon adds, “and no one was telling the story.”
Starting a story
Lyon started researching the subject of the wolf reintroduction to the Greater Yellowstone Area with the help of two law students.
“We spent the summer of 2008-09 researching, and these two young, bright law students looked at how we could file a lawsuit, change a law or take some legal strategy so the state could manage wolves,” he explains. “Initially, we thought it was that the state didn’t have good lawyers, but it wasn’t the law’s fault.”
Wildlife cannot be managed from a courthouse, Lyon emphasizes, adding that states should be able to manage their own wildlife.
“Then, I, along with others, put together a group of 13 different wildlife organizations who have contributed hundreds of millions of dollars to wildlife conservation,” he continues. “I came up with a political plan. I grew up in politics, and I knew how to do things politically.”
Away from the law
“I knew there was no way we were going to win in a lawsuit,” Lyon remarks, noting that as a lawyer, he has seen success in the courtroom. “The only thing we can do is go to Congress and change the law.”
A political solution to remove the wolf from the endangered species list, says Lyon, is the best solution.
“That is the only way to change this,” he adds. “We have to come together with wildlife groups and work together again.”
Lyon began working with endangered species law when he instigated a change in the Endangered Species Act (ESA) – the first substantive changes in the ESA’s 36-year history, at that time. The changes were made through a bill that passed Congress in 2011.
Writing a book
“After we got the bill passed, I wanted others to know the truth about wolves, and I wanted to publish a book that would tell the truth about wolves,” Lyon says.
He joined forces with co-author Will Graves to compile as much information as possible to arm citizens with facts to use in defending themselves against wolves.
“My co-author Will Graves knew many of these people after writing a book several years ago called Wolves in Russia: Anxiety through the Ages,” Lyon explains. “These people are all experts in their fields.”
Lyon’s 351-page book, titled The Real Wolf, delves into many of the intricacies involving wolves and wolf management.
In The Real Wolf, Lyon and his collaborators put together an extensive compilation of the science, politics, history and economics surrounding wolves.
“The truth needs to be out there, and the myths about wolves need to be revealed,” Lyon comments.
To start, he says that wolves regularly kill people around the world, wolves affect livestock dramatically, and they devastate wildlife herds across their range. In addition, wolves cause dramatic economic impacts.
Lyon extensively backs these claims throughout The Real Wolf.
“I want the truth to be known about wolves so people have a weapon in their arsenal to argue with officials and environmentalists,” Lyon comments.
After reading The Real Wolf and arming themselves with fact, the first step the public needs to tackle to alleviate the challenges related to wolves is to delist the species.
“Wolves are not an endangered species,” Lyon says. “There are over 60,000 wolves in Canada alone. I, and other scientists, believe there are several thousand wolves in Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Washington and Wyoming.”
Despite recent legal challenges, Lyon also notes that Wyoming must continue to pursue its case regarding wolf management in the legal system.
“Wyoming cannot just let the decision go,” he says.
“The real endgame is politics,” Lyon says, “and we have to bring groups together.”
Because the sporting industry is impacted by wolves, he comments that agriculture and others must draw outdoorsmen and women into the conversation.
“The sporting industry in the U.S. is the most powerful political industry in the country, and we have to bring them together,” explains Lyon. “There are so many people who like to hunt, fish and view wildlife. We need to get these groups together.”
In working together, Lyon also emphasizes that a bipartisan effort must be pursued. If the issue becomes a partisan issue, no positive outcome will be achieved.
“We have to have both sides to win,” Lyon says.
“Wyoming has two Senators and a Representative who are very good, but we need to draw in both parties,” Lyon says. “We need a bill to totally remove wolves from the Endangered Species List. Once we do that, Wyoming can manage wolves on their own.”
The Real Wolf
The Real Wolf, a 351-page book by Ted Lyon and Will Graves, looks at the science, politics and economics surrounding wolves in the U.S.
The book can be purchased in a variety of venues, including many bookstores and on Amazon.
“The Real Wolf has been a best seller in its category on amazon.com for several weeks,” Lyon comments.
However, the best place to find more information and purchase a book is at therealwolf.com, Lyon’s website.
A look inside
In his book, Ted Lyon looks at wildlife and livestock impacts created by wolves, among a wide variety of other topics.
“I’ve personally witnessed the destruction of elk and moose in Yellowstone Park,” he says. “Elk counts decreased dramatically from 19,000 in 1995 to 6,000 in 2008. In 2013, there were a little fewer than 4,000 elk.”
Lyon notes that moose populations have nearly been eliminated, as well.
Additionally, in some areas – near Gardiner, Mont., for example – nearly 2,000 elk licenses have been eliminated, resulting in loss of income for communities.
“When hunters come into these areas, they bring thousands of dollars into the local economy,” Lyon comments.
For livestock producers, wolves are more destructive than simply killing calves.
“Wolves affect livestock dramatically – and not just in kills, but also in the loss of weight per cow or calf,” he says, stating that up to 100 pounds per season may be lost by cows and calves. “Those numbers dramatically affect the bottom line for ranchers.”
In New Mexico, wolves have pushed some ranchers out of business, and in North Carolina, the red wolf – a wolf, coyote hybrid – is “a disaster for livestock producers,” Lyon says.
“Wolves are the most destructive animals on the face of the earth,” he comments.
Jimenez discusses changes in wolf management for livestock producersWritten by Saige Albert
The story of wolves in Wyoming is long and wrought with frustration for many, and following a late-September ruling to reverse the delisting decision, wolves were put back on the Endangered Species List.
“The state of Wyoming does not have an approved plan to manage wolves based on the court decision,” says Mike Jimenez, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) wolf management and science coordinator. “It is unfortunately really ironic, because Wyoming was doing a good job managing wolves.”
Returning to 1994 10(j)
Jimenez explains that one of the frustrating aspects of wolves returning to endangered status is their management under the 1994 10(j) rule.
Under the Endangered Species Act, species can be classified as fully endangered, threatened or nonessential experimental, he notes.
“Wolves in Wyoming were always classified as a nonessential, experimental population,” he says. “They were never fully endangered, but they were on the Endangered Species List.”
The nonessential, experimental designation allowed more management flexibility for the FWS to remove wolves that caused problems to help ranchers protect their livestock, and in 1994, a 10(j) rule was written to allow FWS to do just that. The 10(j) rule allows for management of animals currently on the Endangered sSpecies List.
“It was very restrictive because we wanted to let populations grow,” Jimenez explains. “We weren’t going to have a lot of problems in the beginning because there weren’t very many wolves.”
Changes over time
Since 1994, Jimenez notes that wolf management has evolved and the 1994 10(j) rule was modified to accommodate changing populations.
“The 1994 10(j) is a restrictive rule,” Jimenez continues. “There were other amended 10(j) rules written in 2005 and 2008 that gave even more management flexibility, but Wyoming can’t use those amended 10(j) rules because they don’t have a FWS-approved management plan. So they are struck with the original 1994 rule.”
“When we had problems, we would allow ranchers to kill wolves or we would come in and get rid of wolves when we had to. It has worked reasonably well,” he says. “The population has done fine, and we have minimized problems.”
However, conflicts and controversies haven’t necessarily been eliminated .
“We have been allowed to protect livestock,” Jimenez says. “We have evolved over the past 15 years so that if wolves cause problems, we can address it.”
Despite the adjustments that were made since 1994 to accommodate growing wolf populations, Jimenez says the court decision means the 10(j) rule from 1994 applies across Wyoming.
“This is going to be frustrating,” he adds.
Though the winter months are often quieter, Jimenez notes that the largest number of wolf conflicts occur in the mid- to late summer months when many cattle and sheep producers have their livestock on BLM and Forest Service allotments.
“We will be very limited in what we can do regarding wolves killing livestock,” he says, “but we will do everything we can to resolve problems. It has always been our aim to help producers so they don’t have to pay the cost of wolves.”
Changes in management
Among changes in management, Jimenez notes that FWS can no longer issue shoot-on-sight permits to ranchers, as they have in the past.
“Now, for a rancher to shoot a wolf, the wolf must be caught in the act of actually attacking livestock,” he says. “We haven’t ever had someone do this in the entire 30-year program.”
FWS can remove wolves that chronically kill livestock, but the wolf must be at least a second offender.
Jimenez emphasizes that the 1994 10(j) rule only considers horses, mules, cattle and sheep as livestock. Animals like working dogs, guard dogs and others are not considered livestock. Non-livestock animal deaths will not result in wolf removal.
“If a rancher sees wolves attacking their dogs, there isn’t much they can do,” he explains. “We can harass wolves, but we cannot shoot wolves.”
“We can’t remove wolves as aggressively as we used to,” Jimenez says.
In addition, the “predator zone” for wolves has been removed.
Working with producers
“I really appreciate that producers haven’t come at us during this frustrating time,” Jimenez says, noting that ranchers have been very understanding through the process.
Today, Jimenez explains that FWS must meet a strict set of standards to remove wolves.
If producers have issues with wolves, Jimenez urges them to call FWS or USDA Wildlife Services.
“If a producer has dead livestock, they can call the Wyoming Game and Fish Department (WGFD), who can investigate the kill,” he says. “WGFD can be involved with livestock kills but not wolf management. We are trying to keep them as involved as much as possible.”
Jimenez also notes that FWS is looking forward to resolving the challenges that are associated with wolves.
“Some people are looking at congressional fixes, like in Montana and Idaho,” Jimenez says. “In Wyoming, the state has also appealed the ruling. FWS did not appeal the decision.”
FWS also continues to do monitoring and genetic sampling, as before.
“We don’t want producers to be caught up on the outside of all of this,” he adds. “They are just trying to protect their livestock.”
“Many people are frustrated, but they want to understand the rules and what to do,” Jimenez says. “If producers have problems, I would encourage them to let us know so we can advise people on how to react.”
Wolf impact on cattle researchedWritten by Saige Albert
Steele recently completed his thesis project at UW, titled Wolf Reintroduction: Direct and Indirect Effects for Western Wyoming Cattle Producers. Steele received his master’s degree from the College of Agriculture and Natural Resource’s Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics in August 2012 after defending his thesis in July.
“When I started my graduate work, I began talking to Ben Rashford, my committee chair,” explains Steele. “I took work the committee had done a little farther and changed it slightly.”
Using Excel spreadsheets and economics programs, Steele was able to determine wolf impacts on cattle profit margins at varying levels of wolf stress.
“I set up a ranch budget and used data from Wyoming and Canada about wolf impacts,” says Steele. “I looked at five different wolf impacts on cattle.”
“There are both direct and indirect effects from wolves,” he continues. “Direct effects are when the wolf is physically harming cattle. I looked at death loss and missing cattle, as well as injured calves.”
Steele also notes that indirect effects include decreased weaning weights, decreased conception rates and stress-related sickness, all of which impact cattle production and producer’s ability to profit.
“I set up price variability for steer calves, heifer calves, bulls and cull cows,” explains Steele, noting that running a budget with 10,000 simulations including only price variability allowed him to set up a baseline budget. “I had five total budgets that I used.”
In each budget situation, he increased wolf impacts from the baseline, setting low wolf pressure, medium wolf pressure and severe wolf pressure. Steele also utilized a budget with stochastic, or random, wolf pressure.
“Each budget was linked to the same price distribution, so wolf effects were driving the profit differences,” he adds.
“I found, through my research, that wolves can really affect cattle,” Steele explains. “Profits decreased as wolf pressure increased.”
In utilizing variations based on the level of wolf activity, as shown in Table One, difference in profit levels were seen, as shown in Table Two.
Steele notes that average gross margin decreased with increasing wolf impacts, dropping below zero at maximum levels.
“Under severe effects, the gross margin is not expected to cover variable cost and would result in operating below shut-down point every other year,” says Steele. “Stochastic impacts are the most realistic because of random wolf activity.”
Steele also looked at compensation for wolf losses, saying, “The most interesting part of my research was the compensation ratios.”
“The current policy says that for every dead calf that is found, and can be proven a result of wolves, ranchers receive compensation for seven calves,” Steele explains. “An Idaho study found that for every dead calf, there are six more that are also dead but will never be found, meaning we see compensation at a seven to one ratio.”
He also notes that a governmental official, such as a Wildlife Services agent or Wyoming Game and Fish Department game warden, must confirm and document wolf kills.
“Current policy is based on depredation only,” Steele adds.
“With my low and moderate wolf pressure scenarios, I changed some of the weaning weights and wolf effects,” he explains. “Compensation ratios could be greater than 13 to one, on average.”
As a result of his compensation ratios research, Steele confirmed the seven to one ratio for depredation, or death loss, only. However, other wolf impacts could result in more severe ratios. For example, his research showed when taking into account conservative weaning weight and conception rates, impacts may be 13 to one.
Steele recognizes that his research is very new and there are future steps to be taken to confirm or support his conclusions. One step he mentions that should be done to increase the validity of his conclusions involves gathering more data wolf impacts.
Gathering hard data, however can be very difficult, and he adds that there are limitations to the research in his project.
“Limited data, short run models and wolf effects that are difficult to quantify limit the research,” Steele notes in his presentation. “Cattle prices drive the risk and returns of cattle production. Wolves add to the risk.”
He mentions that in data collected from Minnesota, landowners believed wolves threatened their livelihoods, but laws, government, diseases and extreme weather were perceived as greater threats.
Other further research options may include quantifying indirect effects further, identifying more accurate compensation policies and increasing producer’s wolf tolerance, among others.
“Right now, this is really new research, and there is a lot more research to be done,” says Steele. “I think the next step now is to find out how bad wolves actually affect cattle.”
Among his conclusions, Steele adds, “The long-run viability of ranching may be harmed by wolves, but wolf populations are likely to decrease leading to fewer cattle conflicts.”