Wyoming Wildlife Services strives to keep effective control on balanced budgetWritten by Christy Martinez
Douglas – “Pilots don’t come to Wyoming if they don’t want to work,” said Wyoming Wildlife Services (WS) Director Rod Krischke at the Aug. 17 Wyoming Livestock Board (WLSB) listening session during State Fair week in Douglas.
Krischke was present to update the group on his agency and its activities within Wyoming, which include the aerial hunting program.
“The Livestock Board is charged with collecting predator fees on livestock at inspection, so we do have a connection to predator control, and those in the livestock industry do have an interest in Wildlife Services issues,” said WLSB President Eric Barlow.
Krischke explained the WS aerial program has five pilots, and that WS has cost-share or cooperative employees in 17 of Wyoming’s 23 counties, and the agency has agreements to provide services with 21 counties.
“We have an airplane at Rock Springs, Casper, Hulett, Riverton and in Worland, and we also have a contract with an aviation company to provide services with a helicopter, which is very expensive,” said Krischke. “We do keep airplanes flying routinely, and we put 3,000 hours on our planes each year.”
In addition to the aerial hunting program, WS also has a wildlife disease program.
“We’re not experts on diseases, but we are experts on handling and working with wildlife,” said Krischke. “About 10 years ago Congress funded a disease program in WS that provides rapid response anywhere in the country, and the guys in this position are on call all the time – when there’s an outbreak of a disease, they respond to it, and they’re there to help the state and federal experts and to provide manpower.”
Krischke says the wildlife disease biologist in Wyoming has done sampling for rabies, plague and tularemia, as well as working with sampling for brucellosis and chronic wasting disease.
“Our bread and butter is predator control,” noted Krischke. “In 1998 WS cooperators lost $17.5 million in livestock to predators, and that was primarily losses in sheep and goats nationwide.”
“The Wyoming sheep industry has been a big part of agriculture in the state since the 1800s, and everybody knows the national sheep industry has undergone a significant decline,” he stated. “Predators have been attributed as a big part of that decline, and a big part of predator losses of sheep and lambs in Wyoming are to coyotes. In comparison to coyotes, the other species are minimal, and anybody who’s having losses knows they’re significant, because they will continue until they’re stopped.”
Krischke said he started his career with WS in 1980.
“For all my career I’ve struggled against trying to find effective solutions to predator predation,” he said. “In the 1960s we had an era where we still had 1080 and strychnine and other strong toxicants, and producers refer back to that time as the only time when we had control on predation.”
Although the livestock industry has seen significant losses to predators since then, Krischke said he thinks Wyoming’s current system is working.
“We’re showing a trend of predation coming down, and my goal is to get it under six percent and keep it there,” he said. “I think we’ll continue to see a decline in the percentage of predation, and it’s bigger than Wildlife Services – it’s due to the whole system we work under in Wyoming.”
He added, “The cattlemen, in terms of value, experience every bit as much in losses as the sheep industry. Many people think predators are a sheep industry issue, but it’s bigger than that.”
In its predator programs, WS works with the statutory predators in Wyoming through the county predator boards.
“They have a responsibility, and we provide a service to them,” explained Krischke. “We also work with Wyoming Game and Fish to help livestock producers who are having problems with trophy game animals, which include black bears, grizzly bears, and cougars, and as soon as wolves are delisted they will be, as well.”
Krischke said that, with the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, his agency’s role is to respond to the damage.
“We’re at their beck and call, and they reimburse us for our cost. Our role is to identify damage, what predator was responsible and to provide a method or a way to address that damage,” he said.
One way WS identifies damage is to skin a calf or a ewe.
“If you don’t skin it back, you can’t tell anything happened, but once you skin it back you can see all the trauma,” said Krischke.
Of tracking wolf damage, he said the agency uses trapping, aerial hunting, ground shooting and telemetry, which helps them dial in on specific wolves.
“We have so many wolves now, and with collars we can figure out who did it,” he noted. “The monitoring is really helpful in addressing damage, as well as knowing how many we have to meet the endangered species requirements.”
Of the potential hunting season for wolves, should they be delisted, Krischke said that would make their job harder.
“In time they’ll be as shy as a coyote, and as hard to come up with,” he said. “Right now they’re bold, and don’t have any fear without a predator. They stand around and look at us, and that does make our job easier, but when they’re hunted it will impact their behavior. However, that could be a positive, because they’ll avoid people and their livestock operations, but I can’t say that it’s a net plus or minus.”
According to the Economic Analysis of Predator Management in Wyoming, Krischke said the net benefit of predator control is estimated at $11.8 to $197.4 million, and the benefit cost ratio is from $2.90 to $33.40 of every dollar spent. He said that’s looking at it from both the livestock and wildlife perspectives, and the variance is due to the wildlife side and how wildlife values are assessed.
“The other thing in the report that blew my socks off was the total employment direct and secondary resulting from predator management, which is estimated at 408 to 624 jobs, depending on which economic returns are considered,” he explained. “Much of that employment is in agriculture, forestry, fishing, hunting, accommodation and foodservices, the retail trade, arts, recreation and others. Predator control has a positive impact on the economy.”
Despite its proven positive effects on wildlife and livestock survival and the economy, WS has taken cuts in the federal budget, and Krischke said he knows there will be more action taken nationwide.
“We have a long way to go, if Congress has the will to address this problem, and I know that WS doesn’t seem to have ever missed a cut. I appreciate the folks who are working to minimize that,” he said.
In 2011 WS lost $250,000 in the Tri-State Predator Earmark, and Wyoming WS lost another $50,000.
“We originally had $250,000, and now we’re down to $100,000,” noted Krischke. “We’ve been taking cuts for several years now, so our program is trying to find ways to keep providing the services folks need while keeping the budget balanced.”