Ranchers hopeful for changes to compensation rates

CLARESHOLM, Alta. — Alberta ranchers can get compensation when a grizzly bear, black bear, wolf or cougar kills one of their animals, but the path to obtaining that money is not always smooth.

Has the type of predator that killed the animal been confirmed? Were the remains inspected by a Fish and Wildlife officer? Was the kill reported within three days of occurrence or discovery? Was the evidence preserved? Is the amount adequate to cover the loss?

Answers to those questions can affect a rancher’s ability to get compensation and it remains a hot-button issue for many who have lost livestock to the predators that frequent the eastern slopes of the Rockies.

Those who gathered for a Feb. 28 meeting organized through the Carnivores and Communities program heard about potential progress to alter the compensation program.

Jeff Bectell, a Cardston-area rancher and co-ordinator of the program on behalf of the Waterton Biosphere Reserve, said Alberta government officials are talking with the Carnivore Working Group about changes it has proposed to the compensation program but the process is in its most preliminary phase.

“They are talking to us about it in a way that we haven’t experienced before, but there are no guarantees,” said Bectell.

Among the CWG proposals are:

  • compensation at 2.5 times the value of the animal on confirmed kills
  • compensation of probable kills at 100 percent instead of 50 percent as it is now
  • compensation at 1.5 times the value of the animal if the producer can verify it was a purebred
  • compensation for guard animals killed by predators
  • compensation for bulls at 1.75 times the Canfax cull price at the time

Current rules require that, if the predator kill is probable but not confirmed, a second kill by the same predator species must occur within 10 kilometres and 90 days of the first kill to trigger compensation. The CWG proposes that requirement be eliminated.

It also suggests that if a predator kills a feeder yearling calf, owners should get the option of receiving value for the animal at time of death or taking the Canfax fall average price of a 950 lb. animal.

One further suggestion is that the government offer a course to producers on how to verify predator kills.

Mark Heckbert, provincial wildlife conflict specialist with Alberta Environment and Parks, said the compensation formula for livestock killed by predators was last reviewed before 2013.

Its purpose is to provide fair market compensation for selected livestock species lost to specific types of predators and to encourage increased tolerance of predators so there are opportunities to prevent and mitigate damage from large carnivores.

Heckbert said Fish and Wildlife investigators have the goal of responding to a predation report within 24 hours, though that is not always possible given timing, distance and officer availability.

There are 300 to 400 claims made each year, he said, and $300,000 to $450,000 in payments are made, with the amounts dependent on cattle and other livestock prices at the time of the kills.

Funding for compensation claims comes from sale of hunting and fishing licences, making up 52 percent of the total, and from the federal government through agri-insurance funds, said Heckbert.

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