Gov’t steps up programs | Compensation is available but producers must be able to verify losses; must also monitor fields
FORT ST. JOHN, B.C. — Wolves have become ravenous troublemakers for British Columbia livestock producers.
A cattle loss survey by the B.C. Cattlemen’s Association learned more than 2,700 head were lost and it is estimated at least 1,000 of those were due to predation in 2011. Disease, accidents, theft or hunters were responsible for the remainder.
If losses can be verified as predator kills, ranchers are entitled to compensation. But for many who are losing more animals each year, that is not good enough. Too often, there are no remains, so there is no payment for the loss.
“It is normal for us to have a one percent loss on the range but when we have lost 10 percent we know we have a predator problem,” said Agnes Wright of the Cariboo Stockmen’s Association.
“Verification is all very well. Our problem is we have an overpopulation of wolves in the province,” she said.
Wolves are moving across a wider area so more ranchers are affected.
“I don’t think the verification is as important as getting rid of the damned wolves,” said Len Bawtree of Enderby in the North Okanagan region.
The cattlemen passed several resolutions seeking an open hunting season in problem areas.
Also, association manager Kevin Boon said a partnership has been set up with the B.C. Trappers Association. The cattle association has budgeted $10,000 per year for the next five years to the trapper program to provide incentives for them to kill the wolves.
“I hope we can establish a good relationship with the B.C. trappers to help us manage the wildlife we’ve got out there,” he said.
Most of the knowledge about the extent of the wolf problem is based on anecdotes, said Prince George trapper Mike Morris. There are no official population numbers.
“They are sorely lacking in the last few years and they are very inaccurate, particularly with wolves. This provincial government has neglected things like that because it hasn’t been a high priority so our numbers vary quite a bit,” he said.
“I see lots more on my trapline than I did years ago. There’s lots of producers who are losing a large percentage of their herd every year because of wolf predation, which is abnormal,” he said.
Furthermore, there is little money to be made in trapping wolves.
“We might average $80 if we are lucky. Maybe a good one will bring $100,” he said.
The government has stepped up its control programs in recent years.
Provincial conservation service operators work with producers on predator conflict committees throughout B.C. These are intended to train producers to verify kills and learn how to lessen the risk of predators taking cattle and sheep as well as estimate the extent of the problem.
So far, 219 producers have been trained to verify kills.
“We realize your losses and we take your concerns seriously,” said Darrell Ashworth, provincial co-ordinator of the predator conflict prevention and response program.
There has been an increase in the number of reported kills in the last 10 years.
There were 113 claims for $34,000 in 2005-06 and so far this year $40,000 was paid.
However, in reality the losses are much higher. There are B.C. producers who have lost a third of their herds to predators, said Ashworth.
“There are guys who have stopped ranching altogether because they just can’t afford to feed the wolves,” he said.
The response team is also training conservation officers on predator removal, and changes have been made to hunting regulations and removal of wolves from private property.
People are also advised to take more precautions like adding lighting in farmyards, electric fencing or other scare devices.
Livestock and poultry should be kept locked inside a barn or coop at night if a wolf is in the area.
Regularly counting livestock is important in large pastures or areas with heavy cover where dead livestock could remain unnoticed. It is not unusual for livestock producers who don’t regularly count their herd to suffer substantial losses before they identify that they have a predator problem.
Sick, injured or old livestock should be removed from the main herd. Once a predator identifies livestock as easy prey it will likely continue to kill even healthy animals.
Livestock owners should keep records and identify each animal through tagging or branding to make it easier to identify losses.
The livestock owner should keep a journal of predator problems. Over time, his journal can be used to show areas or time periods in which predator problems peak.
Producers with problem wildlife may call the 24 hour toll free line at 877-952-7277.