Despite demands from cattle producers to kill wolves to protect cattle, studies show it doesn’t always work
About six weeks are left in a wolf pilot project in northeastern Saskatchewan to determine if culling will reduce livestock losses.
So far, the results aren’t positive.
“Some of the objectives are to actually find out whether a project of this sort works,” said Mike Gollop of the province’s environment ministry.
The fur and problem wildlife specialist said the project should provide answers to several questions.
“How interested is the hunting community? Will hunters be effective in finding wolves and what percentage of licences actually get filled with a tag?” he told a producer meeting about livestock predation and protection that was held in Tisdale Feb. 4.
“We’ll also be contacting each of the hunters and finding out what their experience was, whether they accomplished anything and getting their feedback.”
The pilot project is taking place near Weekes, Sask., where significant numbers of livestock have gone missing.
“Some positive, other circumstantial evidence suggested wolves as a culprit, and in reality we tried all of the techniques that we normally have at our disposal,” said Gollop.
“We tried to encourage extra trapping, crop insurance brought in some of their predation specialists, we tried to use baiting with 1080 (canine sensitive poison), we just went through the whole gamut. Even with the good compensation programs that are in place, a lot of times with wolves you don’t even have a carcass. So you’re not in a position to make a claim. So it’s very frustrating.”
The pilot project has made 100 big game licences available to hunt wolves from Sept. 15 to March 31.
Hunters have bought 73 licences, which allow them to hunt without a trapper’s license in an area that is designated as farmland and kill a maximum of two wolves per license.
There have been no reports of hunter success.
Gallop said the number of licences that were issued indicates interest in the program wasn’t significant. He predicted that there won’t be many wolves culled under the pilot program.
“Probably 12 wolves if everything worked out really, really well,” he said.
Citing privacy concerns, the Saskatchewan Crop Insurance Corp. is not disclosing the amount of predator compensation it has paid out in the Weekes area. Due to the small size of the area, any information could identify specific farms, said crop insurance spokesperson Rae Groeneveld.
He added that crop insurance paid out $1.45 million for predation compensation on 1,463 claims across Saskatchewan in 2013-14. Six percent of that represents wolf predation.
He said the percentage of claims from wolf predation has remained consistent since crop insurance starting delivering the program in 2010.
The compensation cap for the pilot program has been set at $25,000 per producer for total claims, while the general program has no cap.
Norman Belchamber, a grain farmer in the Weekes area, said he has seen wolf numbers skyrocket.
“The wolf population has just totally exploded in the past four years,” he said.
Belchamber said he started trapping and hunting wolves four years ago because his neighbours are losing many calves to wolf predation.
“I felt that I had the time and resources to do it,” he said.
“I’ve decided to take it upon myself to try and make a difference. We’ve got areas that aren’t being trapped properly and conserved.”
Belchamber is adamant that trapping is the key to solving the problem.
“In the past three years I’ve harvested in excess of 100 wolves in a 12 mile sq. area,” he said.
“All you need to do is have an incentive for those trappers to get out there and make it become financially feasible.”
However, Gallop said a study at Washington State University that looked at compensatory mortality over 25 years found that each wolf killed increased the odds of depredation: four percent for sheep and five to six percent for cattle. It also said 20 wolves killed doubled livestock deaths.
“The easiest way to describe this is a wolf that dies one way can’t die another way. If a wolf is shot, another wolf that may have starved will live,” he said.
“The ability of a (wolf) pack to respond when populations drop is incredible…. There was this backfiring affect on livestock.”
Gallop said common sense is required.
“I think if you’ve got a problem in your backyard, going after the wolves in your backyard makes nothing but sense, ideally taking that entire pack out of there and then crossing your fingers that the next pack that comes in is not going to specialize on livestock.”