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Intermountain Rangeland Symposium: Agencies still behind on wolf impact

Published on 20 January 2011

Casey Anderson, manager of the OX Ranch near Bear, Idaho, doesn’t measure the recovery of wolves in the same perspective as federal agencies, which follow merely the number of dens and pups.

And it isn’t even just by a measure of cattle killed.

Instead, the presence of wolves near his ranch located in the Payette National Forest of Idaho, is evident in cattle behavior, cattle injuries, and thanks to collars placed on wolves from a nearby den – the constant presence of wolves tracked around the grazing areas. Anderson made his presentation at the Intermountain Rangeland Symposium, held in Twin Falls, Idaho, Jan. 13 and 14.

casey andersonAnderson told symposium participants of the grazing technique necessary for cows to get upward of a Body Condition Score of 6 to last them through winter.

“Wolves affect not only public land ranching, they are more and more into bigger areas of private land,” he said. “They’re going to be right on top of you."

Delisted for just over a year by the Obama administration, the Canadian wolf was put back on the federal endangered species list last year when a Montana federal judge said delisting could not occur in Idaho and Montana to circumvent Wyoming’s unacceptable recovery plan.

“We try to do things right but when they throw the wolf in there it really fouls things up.”

In an slide presentation Anderson displayed a specific wolf – numbered B446 – that has recorded data entered every 15 minutes, as part of a coalition project with the USDA/Agriculture and Food Research Initiative, USDA/Agricultural Research Service, University of Idaho, Oregon State University and the Oregon Beef Council, to work with federal agencies.

As one would expect, wolves around a cow-calf operation will yield grisly results. Anderson presented visual cases where calves carcasses were left with almost nothing in tact. In other cases, cattle with severe injuries were nursed back to health – only to be killed later by the same pack.

Being compensated for those losses is even tougher -- Anderson said it was around only 7 percent of predation losses -- because fish and wildlife officials must clearly determine there was trauma inflicted on the cattle. Often times, there is nothing left to prove it. Experience eventually proved over time how to identify the impact of wolves.

"We were trying to blame some of our losses on stuff that naturally happens -- coyotes, natural causes, maybe one fell in a badger hole. We were just sitting there as naive as can be. Then we started picking up on the patterns, and said, 'That was happening two years ago.'"

In the case of B446, entry data showed in 2009 that daily travel for the predator averaged 11.4 miles a day, sometimes up to 21 miles a day, and one day 27 miles. In a 55-mile perimeter covering 210 square miles, the wolves traveled mostly early in the morning and late at night. Depredations would happen within eyesite of ranch residential areas. And when a cow or calf is killed from a suspected wolf, proving it to wildlife managers is often a failing proposition because trauma has to be proven on the cattle carcass.

Anderson said government can’t grasp the wolf’s full impact, considering how much stress is shown on cattle, leading to lower BCS, more feed costs, lower pregnancy rates and an overall change in temperament in livestock.

“That’s really where we see the wolf emerging,” Anderson said. “You can talk about EPDs for docility and temperament. But if they’re too docile, they’re going to be dead.”end_mark


Casey Anderson of the OX Ranch in central Idaho presented the data and map entries for packs of collared wolves that preyed on his cow-calf operation. Photo by David Cooper.