By Nick Reynolds Via Wyoming News Exchange
CASPER — A new bill introduced in the Wyoming Legislature last week would create a new compensation program for ranchers whose livestock is killed or damaged by gray wolves outside of game hunting zones, providing new flexibility for those grappling with a protected species often blamed by ranchers in the Mountain West for losses to their herds.
Sponsored by Rep. John Winter, R-Thermopolis, the legislation would create a $90,000 fund to compensate ranchers for any losses related to gray wolf attacks, and would be active for two years.
Currently, Wyoming reimburses livestock producers for losses in areas where the state manages wolf populations, namely around the Jackson Hole and Yellowstone region. Last year, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department granted 34 such claims in those areas totaling $382,601, slightly less than the roughly $390,000 paid out in 2017, a spokesperson said.
Winter’s bill, however, would give money directly to the Wyoming Department of Agriculture to pay out damages in areas where the gray wolf is defined as a predator, outside of that zone — an area where Game and Fish currently does not offer reimbursement and in which the Department of Agriculture has had little ability to assist landowners.
The Department of Agriculture does offer one program to assist in the management of wolves deemed to be problematic in the predator zone, a spokesman said in an email. However, those funds do not include compensation for livestock lost to those wolves.
The state’s gray wolf population has been a controversial topic in Wyoming since its reintroduction to the greater Yellowstone region in the early 1990s, where the once-endangered species has had a sometimes adversarial relationship with ranchers.
Despite exceeding recovery goals set for the species by the federal government in 2002, Wyoming’s gray wolves remained under federal management until 2017, when their numbers reached nearly 400 strong. In that time, wolves had been blamed for livestock losses in the northwestern reaches of the state.
As recently as 10 years ago, organizations like the Defenders of Wildlife compensated ranchers for livestock lost to wolves outside the trophy zone on the condition that they implement nonlethal deterrents on their property to protect their flocks. However, all compensation programs for livestock predations were eliminated when the wolves were delisted from federal protection in 2018, a Department of Agriculture spokesman said.
While Winter’s bill is the first state-level proposal to be introduced this year, it is not the first overall: Last week, federal conservation legislation sponsored by U.S. Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., was introduced with a number of key provisions related to livestock losses, including the establishment of a federal grant program for states and Indian tribes to compensate livestock producers for losses related to species under federal protection, like certain wolves and grizzly bears.