From the pages of
Sublette Examiner
Volume 5, Number 19 - August 4, 2005
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Cattle deaths rise to 19

by Cat Urbigkit

Cattle in the Upper Green River region continue to be subject to depredation by federally protected predators. In the past month, there have been 10 confirmed kills involving grizzly bears and nine confirmed kills involving gray wolves, according to the Upper Green River Cattle Association.

That number includes only kills that were confirmed. Predator kills are very difficult to find and have confirmed by agency specialists. The Wyoming Game and Fish Department has developed a ratio of estimated predation loss to confirmed kills for cattle suffering grizzly bear depredations. That ratio estimates that 3.5 calves are lost to grizzly depredation for every confirmed calf kill. That means the 10 head of cattle confirmed as kills due to grizzlies in the Upper Green this year must be multiplied by 3.5 for a more accurate tally of actual losses.

Both state and federal wildlife agency personnel have taken aggressive action in response to the livestock killings. The Wyoming Game and Fish Department has removed (killed or relocated) four grizzlies and maintains a constant presence in the area, as does USDA Wildlife Services.

WG&F's Mark Bruscino pointed out last week that cattle-killing behavior in grizzlies is generally limited to a few bears, usually adult males. "So oftentimes, removing the offending bear, or few offending bears, solves the depredation problem," Bruscino said. Non-offending bears are left in place.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has authorized Wildlife Services personnel to kill numerous wolves involved in the depredations. On July 22, one female wolf was killed in a control action.

When predation continued, control actions were again authorized. The result was that on Monday morning, Wildlife Services personnel killed an adult male wolf, a breeding female wolf and two pups by shooting them from the air, according to FWS's Mike Jimenez.

That leaves one radio-collared male wolf and two pups, Jimenez believes. He said that while the pups are weaned and are about coyote-sized, they wouldn't survive on their own.

Jimenez explained that FWS left a collared animal in the area in an attempt to monitor the area "to be sure we had a handle on what's there."

He said FWS is still trying to decide if there are one or two adult wolves left, but added that if there are additional depredations, "we'll go after any that's there."

Monday's killing of four wolves brings the total number of wolves killed in control actions in Sublette County to 15 so far this year. That's the total number controlled in the county the entire year last year.

All the wolf deaths were in response to chronic livestock depredations. In late March, five wolves were killed after killing cattle on several ranches in the Merna area; in June, a female and four pups were killed near a domestic sheep lambing ground in the Prospect Mountain area; in late July, one female was killed in the Upper Green; Monday's kill included a total of four wolves.

Controlling problem wolves is a cornerstone of the FWS wolf recovery program in the Northern Rockies.

According to FWS Wolf Recovery Coordinator Ed Bangs: "The service has little recourse other than to kill wolves that had repeatedly attacked livestock. I also personally believe that control of problem animals is a necessary part of any program to restore large predators, including wolves. Suitable wolf habitat is dependent on local human tolerance."

The experimental rules under which the reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone region was authorized call for the removal of wolves that chronically depredate on livestock. Livestock losses are confirmed by expert professional examination by Wildlife Services of livestock carcasses before any control is authorized.

The wolf recovery plan recognized that where the ranges of wolves and livestock overlap, some livestock would be killed by some wolves.

In drafting its wolf control plan, FWS noted that "the overwhelming factor that historically led to extermination of the wolf and still determines the amount of potential wolf habitat available for wolves in North America today, is human tolerance of wolves, particularly in areas where livestock are raised."

FWS added: "In every area of the world where wolves and livestock co-exist, wolves that routinely attack livestock are not tolerated by the owners of those livestock or general society and are controlled. The control plan recommended that coordinated management of livestock, wolves and wild ungulate populations in wolf recovery areas could reduce the probability of wolf-livestock conflict, which would allow people to tolerate wolves, thus enhancing the survival and propagation of wolves. Research in Canada indicated that wolves that are allowed to prey on livestock tend to attack livestock more and more frequently. As this occurs, more wolves learn to attack livestock."

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