From the pages of
Sublette Examiner
Volume 3, Number 35 - November 26, 2003
brought to you online by Pinedale Online

Game herds, livestock feel wolf impacts

by Cat Urbigkit

At Saturday's Sublette Wolf Forum, local people impacted by wolves shared some of their experiences with the crowd in attendance.

Mary Thoman said her family grazes sheep herds on four allotments in the Upper Green River region, including one allotment in the Gros Ventre Wilderness. Wyoming's wolf management plan would classify wolves on three of her allotments as a predator, but as a trophy game animal on the fourth allotment.

"The lines aren't marked, they're not fenced," Thoman explained. Her family's flocks began having wolf depredations about five years ago. The kills have continued, and once, 29 lambs and ewes were killed in one night. Only about one in five, or even one in 10, of the kills are ever found, she said.

Moran cattleman Alan Rosenbaum manages the Pinto Ranch in the heart of wolf country. Since it's also in the heart of a large elk population, the impact on the ranch hasn't been so severe, he said. Two years ago, the Pinto Ranch had one 1,100-pound heifer killed and completely devoured rather quickly.

"Since the wolves moved in, I've slept every night from fall to spring with the window open, so I can hear what's going on," Rosenbaum said. "This spring, in nine days, I had three stampedes of 200 head of cattle and their calves. If any of you have ever heard a cow herd frightened to death, you'll be awake, I don't care how sound a sleeper you are. ... I've developed a lot of gray hair in the last few years from having to deal with these circumstances."

The stampedes stopped when federal officials trapped a 123-pound lone female wolf that had been coming into the pasture and chasing the cattle herd.

"Wolves are here to stay, in my opinion," Rosenbaum said, but the citizens "need to be able to protect our livestock, ourselves and our families."

Joe Sampson of Cora, who runs sheep on private land in the Upper Green River region, and also serves as president of the Sublette County Wool Growers Association, said he's been dealing with wolves for four years.

"The problem I have is, I have wolves constantly coming on my property for four years," Sampson. Three years ago, a habituated wolf came into his place. It became habituated to people, sheep and dogs and then killed some of his sheep.

"That wasn't the worst part: He came in at a certain time of the year and we lost one-third of our lamb crop due to this wolf," Sampson said, because the stressed ewes reabsorbed their fetuses.

Sampson said when a wolf comes in, a property owner has few rights: "The wolf comes in, he's been in my corral and wouldn't leave. He has tracked me. I've walked down the road and backtracked him and looked behind me and the wolf was walking behind me. And there is nothing you can do.

"My sheep are my property and I should be able to protect them," Sampson said, but his options for dealing with the wolves are severely restricted.

"They are not giving me any alternatives," he said.

It was his frustration that led him to tell FWS, "I am going to kill that wolf, so get my jail cell ready," so they gave him a permit to kill the wolf.

"The wolf is no longer with us," he said.

Sampson's advice drew laughter from the crowd. He said: "You can't take the law into your own hands, but you've got to stand up to them. They have all the authority. If you show them you're just as crazy as they are ...."

Charles Price of Upper Green River Cattle Association said the association experienced its first confirmed wolf kills in 2000, but cautioned that many other kills were not confirmed or found. In 2002, there were three confirmed cattle killed by wolves, which grew to seven confirmed kills this year.

Since the number of kills being found has doubled, Price said, this means the number of cattle being killed has doubled as well.

Ross Copeland, a North Cottonwood cattle rancher and outfitter, said his local wolf pack grew from three animals last year to an estimated 17 now.

The impact on the local big game populations has been devastating, Copeland said.

"We're not going to be in business next year," he said of his outfitting business.

GRVCA vice president Jim Greenwood said, "I can guarantee ya' they're killing machines." He described the number of dead big game animals in his area due to wolf predation and said, "We're in the middle of them right now, and they're coming your way."

Greenwood said the first time you see a pack of wolves, it seems like a good experience.

"The second time you see them, you wonder what they're tearing up," he said. Wolves have been documented to have conducted surplus killing in several areas of western Wyoming, it was noted, including on the Bench Corral elk feedground.

When asked what needs to be done to provide relief for livestock producers in the near future, Rosenbaum said help in the form of management tools isn't what is going to keep the cattleman in business, but financial compensation for losses would help. He noted that the Wyoming Game and Fish Department isn't going to have enough money to pay for the losses incurred.

Rosenbaum said he doubted if having the ability to shoot wolves will matter much in the end. He pointed out that he's lived within one and a half miles of the Teton wolf pack for several years and he's only seen them twice. That's surprising considering that the pack grew to include 23 wolves.

"The money is the only thing that is going to keep us in business," Rosenbaum said.

Sampson cast doubt on having the true cost of predation ever being compensated. He said that when the wolves hit his herd, the biggest loss for him was the reduced size of his lamb crop, an impact that isn't compensated.

Sheepman Bill Taliaferro of Sweetwater County said that while he did have some confirmed losses to wolves this year, the major loss for him will remain uncompensated; that of the reduced weights on the herd subject to wolf predation this year. That balances out to about $10,000 in lost income.

Sampson questioned, "If you can't quantify or prove your loss ... how is anybody going to come in and pay for those?"

Ross Copeland said, "It would have been great to have been able to tip them over this year ... human presence does not intimidate them."

Cora rancher Stan Murdock said he is troubled by the need to argue with government officials about "confirming" kills due to protected predators. He suggested that WG&F isn't being as good s a neighbor to agriculture as agriculture is to the state wildlife agency.

"This is just not a fair fight," Murdock said, "because right now we're losing and we're losing big time."

Sportsman Dan McCarron of Rock Springs said it appears "ranching is done in this state. I don't know how you guys are going to survive." He suggested that the people of Wyoming need to rally in support of ranching and to get involved in solving this problem.

While some spoke of their frustration with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, WG&F came under discussion as well. Taliaferro said WG&F often opposes predator control efforts and had almost become enemies of livestock producers now.

"I'm not sure we have a state agency on our side either," Taliaferro said.

Big Piney rancher Dan Budd reminded the group as it slammed government in general that: "We are the government, the government is us. As long as we allow it, they are going to be here."

Big Piney rancher Eddie Wardell encouraged the sportsmen in the audience to help agriculture by documenting the problems that they see to wildlife that are caused by wolves. That information should be taken to the WG&F Commission, Wardell said.

Sweetwater County/Cora sportsman Joe DeCora said he doesn't feel that the wolf is going to get delisted anytime soon, adding, "You guys are in the worst damn position you've ever been in."

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