Predators are raiding British Columbia ranches at an increasing rate.
Two cattle loss surveys conducted in 2010 and 2011 show predators like wolves and cougars are getting bolder, snatching calves from farmyards, while elk are helping themselves to feed supplies.
Those responding to the B.C. Cattlemen’s Association 2011 survey reported 2,734 cattle were lost to predators, sickness, accidents, suspected theft or hunters. Some losses were unknown but could have been due to predators. Most of the victims were calves.
“It is moving out to the areas where we didn’t have problems before,” said Kevin Boon, association manager.
The BCCA wants the ministry of environment to review and expand hunting and trapping regulations on wolf hunting seasons in areas with higher predation problems.
Conservation officers have made predator control a main priority but there is limited government funding.
Under B.C. law only a landowner can control predators on private property. The ranchers would like that right extended to employees.
The association has also suggested subletting traplines from licensed trappers so they can go after problem wolves.
They do not want a bounty on wolves, said Boon.
Increased government support is sometimes stymied because some members of the public say nature should be allowed to take its course and producers should accept attacks as part of the cost of doing business.
The next survey will be conducted in November and will include questions about losses from drought and fire.
The 2011 survey reported about 1,000 cattle were lost to predators. Two of the hardest hit regions, the Cariboo and Peace, are reporting double and triple losses. Of the 1,200 BCCA members, about 30 percent responded to the questionnaire.
The Cariboo region reported nearly 600 animals were lost followed by about 100 each in the Peace and Clinton districts.
The study also tracked crop, forage and infrastructure loss due to wildlife. Nearly $1.5 million was estimated with the highest loss being crops, followed by pastures and stored feed. Wildlife also damaged buildings and fences.
The Cariboo, Quesnel region, Kootenays and the Peace district all reported higher than average losses.
The province pays compensation for dead animals, but wildlife officials must confirm how they died because each predator has a different way of killing.
B.C. pays 75 per cent of market value on confirmed kills. Probable losses or injury costs are not compensated unless the animal was confirmed to have died from a predator attack. No compensation is available for missing animals.
In Alberta, payments are made for the total market value on confirmed livestock kills, and 50 per cent for confirmed probable kills.
Alberta paid out about $200,000 in 2010 with the greatest amount paid for wolf predation at more than $165,000.
Alberta Beef Producers are planning a producer survey to assess the extent of predators, said Fred Hay of the association. It should know by Aug. 15 if funding is granted to do the survey.
“We feel they are here but when it comes down to determining numbers we don’t have good statistics,” he said.
Northwestern Alberta is suffering the most and some municipalities in that region have offered bounties on wolves.
“We are convinced in our minds the numbers are expanding.”
Producers say the numbers are increasing because they are losing more livestock but cannot prove it to receive compensation from the government. Sometimes they do not bother reporting the loss because they find the bureaucracy too bothersome.
“Producers get frustrated and at some point they don’t call,” Hay said.
The beef producers want legislation changed so coyotes are classified as predators rather than pests so they can claim compensation when kills occur.
“We feel there is more damage from coyotes than has been recognized, particularly in that northwest area,” Hay said.
Some losses are accepted as the cost of doing business when two or three animals are killed but when a dozen or more are lost the problem is frustrating and serious, he said.
Sheep, cattle and horses have been preyed on.
Alberta has about 7,000 wolves, said Dave Ealey of Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development.
“We know there are some areas where the density of wolves is among the highest in North America,” said Ealey.