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Wolves way down on the list of sheep predators


Wolves way down on the list of sheep predators






Wolves way down on the list of sheep predators

04/02/02
By SCOTT McMILLION Chronicle Staff Writer

LIVINGSTON — The 138 sheep wolves killed in the three states around
Yellowstone Park in 2001 represented a 75 percent increase over the 80
sheep wolves killed in 2000, according to the annual U.S. Fish and
Wildlife Service wolf report released last week.

But even the higher number is dwarfed by the total number of sheep
killings in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming.

In Montana alone last year, coyotes killed 2,100 sheep and 12,200 lambs,
according to a report issued last week by the Montana Ag Statistics
Service, a joint project between state and federal departments of
agriculture.

Wolves also killed six dogs last year, the FWS report says. But man’s best
friend can also do some damage of its own.

Domestic dogs killed 500 adult sheep and 600 lambs in Montana, almost
eight times as many animals as wolves killed in all three states.

Eagles killed 100 sheep and 1,500 lambs, the NASS report says, while bears
killed 200 sheep and 300 lambs. Mountain lions killed 100 sheep and 300
lambs.

The mortality statistics are compiled based on information gathered from
ranchers all over the state.

“We ask producers what kind of losses they sustained,” Curtis Lund, deputy
state statistician, said of the annual survey. The Montana Woolgrowers
Association helps pay for the study, he added.

In total, ranchers said predators killed 3,100 sheep and 16,800 lambs,
losses that cost them $850,800, the report says.

Diseases, weather, poison, old age and other factors claimed another
38,600 animals, including 1,200 sheep that died like turtles: when their
wool became waterlogged, they rolled on their back and they laid there
until they died.

Last year’s estimate of wolf kills, which FWS agrees might be too low,
would have to grow more than eightfold in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming to
equal that death category in Montana alone.

“If I were a sheep rancher, wolves would not be my first concern,” said
David Gaillard, of the Bozeman-based Predator Conservation Alliance.

Cattle losses show similar trends.

Montana ranchers alone lost 3,800 cattle to predators in 2000, the most
recent statistics available from the federal Department of Agriculture.

In that year, wolves in the three states killed at least 32 cattle, a
number that grew to 40 animals in 2001, the FWS report says.

The three-state loss is the equivalent of less than 1 percent of cattle
losses to all predators in Montana alone.

“A penny a pound change in prices makes more difference than wolves do,”
Bangs said of the beef industry.

However, losses to wolves often are suffered by a handful of small
ranches.

Steve Pilcher, executive director of the Montana Stockgrowers Association,
noted that calves are worth about $500 each.

“If I pull $500 out of your billfold every couple weeks or so, it might
get on your nerves, too,” he said.

Bangs agreed that wolves can hurt some producers, though the effect on the
region’s overall livestock industry is small.

“If you’re the guy getting whacked, it’s a big deal,” Bangs said of losses
to wolves.

Many people enjoy having wolves around, Pilcher said, and ranchers agree
they are here to stay. Yet they don’t appreciate being forced to feed
them.

“Even though it’s a relatively small number, why is it that the livestock
producer has to suffer the costs?” he asked.

The Defenders of Wildlife, a wolf advocacy group, compensates ranchers for
proven losses, but Pilcher maintained actual losses are five to seven
times as high as the proven ones because rough terrain and other factors
make it difficult to prove how an animal died.

Scott McMillion is at scottm@gomontana.com

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