B.C. ranchers demand coverage for wildlife damage to forage

Ranchers in some regions of B.C. say they experience extensive feed losses due to elk.  |  Mike Sturk photo

SMITHERS, B.C.- A British Columbia study on forage production indicated more than 60 percent of ranchers cite wildlife damage as their number one challenge.

“Every region cites that a major problem,” said Geneve Jasper of the B.C. Ministry of agriculture.

Public hearings and an online survey indicated the problem is growing more severe and hampers the ability to improve the quantity and quality of forage grown in B.C.

Forage crops cover more than 75 percent of the province’s arable land and support 776,000 head of livestock.

Complaints about waterfowl, bears and ungulates including elk are common, she told those attending annual meeting of the B.C. Cattlemen’s Association held in Smithers May 31-June 2.

Compensation is available but the level of satisfaction with that program is variable.

The cattlemen’s association passed a resolution demanding the government pay full compensation for the loss of stack yards, fencing, loss of harvested crops, reduced production, fence damage and crop reestablishment or any other losses caused by wildlife.

Some regions have experienced extensive losses from elk and estimate 90 percent of the wildlife damage in some areas is due to elk raiding feed supplies, said Renee Ardill, chair of the environmental stewardship committee.

There is ongoing work to expand an agriculture wildlife damage program to cover pastures as well as cultivated fields because both receive heavy pressure from wildlife grazing. The change in government has stalled the initiative from going further, said Ardill.

The province has full authority over wildlife and ranchers argue the government should assume full responsibility for wildlife.

The government has dedicated $14 million to more effectively manage wildlife and the cattle producers want more hunting and culling to reduce the conflict between ranchers and elk.

“The elk are affecting the sustainability of the cattle ranches and growing crops in most areas,” said rancher Wayne Ray.

“The government refuses to acknowledge they ever transplanted elk and they refuse to take responsibility for the damage they do,” he said.

Other programs to deal with problem predators continue. About 50 wildlife specialists are under contract throughout the province to verify kills and deal with predators. Last year the livestock protection program removed 436 wolves and 160 coyotes.

Compensation is available for predation losses and as of April 2018 sheep are included in the program.

The BCCA also conducts an annual cattle loss survey. The most recent report said 720 cattle were lost to predators. About 250 were lost to wolves, 90 to other predators and the rest were missing with predation being suspected. Of the 187 surveys returned, about $1.8 million in wildlife damage was reported.

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