Wolf Facts, Observations, and Solutions
Steve Mclaughlin has been working with a broad based coalition to help people understand the facts about wolves in Washington. Recently he presented his information to the CAPR King County Chapter, the CAPR members in attendance were quite interested in Steve's presentation and here supply infromation to share about what was learned from Steve.
The Economic Effect of Wolf Predation on Ranching Families and Rural Communities
Rod Haeberle and Steve McLaughlin
(The monetary numbers provided in this article are notional and introduced for the sole purpose of illustrating the unseen economic impact to a ranching family and the community, but they’re close enough to make a point!)
On August 24, two wolf killed calves were discovered on a federal grazing allotment. This brings this season’s total to 9 known calves killed or maimed by these predators in Washington State. To most, nine calf kills would not raise an eyebrow to anyone but the ranching family. But the economic impacts on our rural communities are far greater than what really meets the eye.
When a wolf preys on a herd of cattle and removes one or two calves from a herd, the breed rate of that herd is reduced by 20% to 30%. During the breeding season, most cows breed at a rate of around 98% in any given herd. Reduction in calf birth rates year to year due to wolf predation creates losses that directly impact the ranching family and our rural communities.
To illustrate this, assume the total number of breeding cows on a grazing allotment is numbered at 200 and the number of new calves born the following spring is 196, or 98% breeding success (note: these are notional numbers, because asking a rancher how many head of cattle he has is like asking how much is in his bank account). At the end of the season, those cows that did not breed are usually sold at a diminished, salvage value price. The average breeding life of a cow is ten years. Selling a dry cow results in loss of future calf production for up to ten years at an even greater loss of up to $12,500.00. Also assume that the average price of the sale of beef on the hoof is $1250 per head sold. Obviously, the price per head fluctuates depending upon market prices, but for illustrative means, we’ll use $1250 as a conservative estimate. If a herd suffers a wolf predation, assume there will be a 25% reduction in breeding rate for the affected herd. Again, this is an average of breed rate reduction of between 20% and 30% depending upon the stresses placed upon the affected herd. Given the prices of losses, this summer the rancher will suffer a loss of $11,250.00. Because of the decrease in calf production this summer, only 149 calves will be available in the following spring. Therefore, losses borne by the ranching family will be $62,500, or $72,500.00. In reality, losses are typically far greater than what is illustrated in this example.
Another element of loss to the rancher is the sale of the cows or heifers that did not successfully breed due to wolf caused herd stress. These cows and heifers will be taken out of calf production and sold at dramatically reduced prices, and their breeding life will be shortened by up to 10 years, or ten calves, or another $12,500.00! Finally, stress related weight losses can reduce sale weight by up to 300 pounds per head. This can be staggering because the rancher sells every head of beef by weight!
To most ranchers, a loss of $73,750.00 over a one-year period is likely enough to put them out of business in a very short period of time. If a rancher can survive this level of loss, the ranching family will have to determine the sacrifices they will be required to make to their business and personal expenditures. On the personal level, a loss of this magnitude may result in loss of a college education for a family member, or having to put off the purchase of equipment necessary to operate more efficiently. Consider the trickle down effect; the college or university loses a tuition, and the equipment dealer loses one major equipment sale that negatively affects the bottom line of the dealership. More rural families in the service and education sector are affected.
The current national unemployment rate is around 4%. In many rural counties in Washington, the unemployment rate is about 7% during summer months and as high as 17% in winter months. The ranching family may also be required to lay off one or two ranch hands because of wolf predation losses, thus affecting the unemployment rate, the tax base and the trickle down effect on purchases the employee would normally make in a given year. This includes fewer auto sales, less money spent in the grocery store, having to pass on a needed pair of shoes to the employee’s children. Moreover, the out of work employee would likely be required to go on public assistance thus negatively affecting the county tax base, and the taxpayers pocketbook.
Another consequence of wolf predation is the decimation of deer, elk and moose populations. Economic losses stemming from decreased hunting and game viewing opportunities affect sporting goods profit, hotel and restaurant profits. By the way, the wolf advocate will tell you that tourism Dollars will be increased when tourist come out to see the wild wolves roaming free across the landscape. The truth is, a friend of ours has had to endure terrible losses of his cattle over the years. In the past 10 years since wolves came back to Washington, our ranching friend and only seen 2 or 3 wolves; and he lives out on the range with the wolves!
These are the unintended consequences of the reintroduction of a species that was never previously native to Washington State. Is there a better way to address the wolf issue than to spend unnecessary taxpayer money to keep the species on the state endangered species list and begin using effective control measures to achieve a balance to ensure wolves don’t brutally kill our domestic stock and wildlife populations?
Concerns and Proposed Solutions to Wolf Depredation and Harassment of Livestock and Other Domestic Animals in Washington State
The Arctic Grey Wolf is a non-native, yet protected species in Washington State. The grey wolf is federally protected in Western Washington and it is federally de-listed from endangered status in most areas of Eastern Washington. According to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), grey wolf populations are increasing about 30% per annum. The Cattle Producers of Washington have grave concerns about the negative economic impacts of wolf depredation and harassment of cattle.
- In 2017, cattle producers in wolf-populated areas of the state suffered nearly 20 confirmed cattle depredations by the wolf. Several small businesses lost a far greater number of livestock that can be attributed to wolf activity;
- Historic data on cattle breeding shows a long-standing rate of non-pregnant (open) cows to be in the range of 5 to 7% annually. In 2017, one rancher suffered a 25% open rate in herds subjected to wolf harassment and depredation in spite of these cows having extensive (3 months) contact with seed bulls. A second rancher experienced a 12% open rate resulting only from the mere presence of wolves returning to the rancher’s private range. The increased percentage of open cows represents substantial monetary loss to the ranching family. Our coalition is currently collecting data that will show this damage. Wolves have caused significant economic losses to our ranching families by preying on private property (cattle), creating a significant negative effect to fairly engage in commerce.
- Wolves are habituating to human activity that is leading to a very dangerous threat to public safety. We believe it is only a matter of time before a child or others are attacked and killed by grey wolves. Wolves who make their presence known to humans, or that come into areas mainly inhabited by humans are in latter stages of habituation. In 2017, there were numerous depredations and harassment cases in human occupied areas. These conditions signal latter stage habituation to humans. (Dr. Valerius Geist has extensive research on Habituation); An interesting and informative video featuring Dr. Geist can be viewed for more detailed information.
- With the increasing population of wolves statewide, WDFW rangers are no longer capable of responding to calls to make depredation decisions. When a wolf kills livestock, it completely devours its prey. Therefore, rangers must respond within 24 hours of a wolf kill to make depredation decisions;
- Finally, we are concerned about criminal activity resulting from WDFW taking control measures. In 2017, ranchers suffered numerous cases of cattle being shot after WDFW control actions, and death threats communicated to ranchers, ranch family members and at least to one state legislator.
During the summer of 2017, Steve McLaughlin began forming a coalition of cattle producers, Farm Bureau Members, Washington Cattlemen’s Association members, county commissioners, sheriffs, sportsmen and others with the intent to mobilize the “other side” of the wolf reintroduction argument. Our recommendations for future solutions and actions are:
- Recognize and support county and local government in their authority and ability to make wolf management and control decisions at the local level. This includes recognizing and assisting county commissions and sheriffs in their authority to work within local jurisdictions with at the minimum an equal, and where necessary, a superior footing with WDFW. We call this local control;
- Given an approximate 30% increase in wolf population per annum, it will be increasingly difficult for WDFW to conduct necropsy studies to determine the cause of death of cattle. In fact, WDFW is already short-staffed in their ability to quickly respond to depredation cases. We ask to allow sheriffs deputies and ranchers be trained to make necropsies for reporting to WDFW. We believe this will provide wolf managers with a significantly more accurate count of predator depredations against livestock and other property;
- De-list the grey wolf in Eastern Washington now. WDFW is responsible to draft and circulate ad post de-listing wolf plan. Drafting this plan has not begun;
- We believe that any future wolf plan must be a wolf management and control plan. County commissioners from wolf affected counties, cattle and livestock producers and sportsmen’s groups should have a majority over animal rights stakeholders as those who are economically beset by wolves have the largest stake in the wolf management process;
- Property owners must be granted greater authority to engage in lethal and non-lethal control measures for wolves that are negatively affecting private property and individual safety. Control measures should include lethal and non-lethal measures. Lethal measures should include trapping of wolves. We call this measure individual control;
- While expensive, GPS collars should continue to be fitted on as many wolves as possible in areas with significant depredation/harassment of livestock and domestic stock;
- We request the legislature to draft laws that impose very strict penalties against persons convicted of intentionally killing livestock and communicating threats to any personnel including, ranchers, other private citizens, etc. We also ask the state to fund and participate in a reward program to stop this type of criminal activity.
Cattle producers are the first group, followed by sportsmen to see the negative affects of grey wolf reintroduction. Very soon, others will be adversely affected. Let’s hope it is not depredation of a child!