The first article is one I wrote for a small local newspaper called the Peace Country Sun.
This article focuses on why bounties do not work and suggest some simple management solutions to help decrease predation.
Conflicts between Predators and Ranchers and why bounties do not work.
By Louise Liebenberg
Living in a country where predator’s co exists with agriculture, it is important for ranchers to set themselves up for success and look for ways to manage predation of livestock. It is an illusion to think that there will be no losses to predation; however ranchers need to focus on how to reduce predation. In all parts of ranching, the key is management and ranch management lies in your hands! To sit back and wait for the government to jump in and save the day is naïve and complacent.
Due to poor economic times for the cattle industry, many ranchers have been forced to do cattle ranching as a part time job. Cows are routinely left to forage and fend for themselves and their calves without regular supervision of the rancher. This lack of supervision opens up opportunities for predators, as too often, sick and weak animals are left unattended, cows are left to pasture calving and dead animals are left for predators to eat and dispose of.
Looking at research done in 2005 in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming (USA) it indicates the biggest causes for livestock losses (over 89%) are due to digestive or respiratory problems and that less that 3% of all livestock mortality was due to wolves, grizzly bears, and black bears combined. [Edited by Musiani, M., L. Boitani and P. Paquet (2010). The World of Wolves. New Perspectives on Ecology, Behaviour and Management. University of Calgary Press, Calgary Alberta.]
So, bearing in mind that most predators routinely avoid preying on livestock despite getting their first taste of domestic livestock by eating disposed carcasses, what can producers do to decrease the incidence of predation? In a study done in Europe it was found that failure to rapidly remove carcasses increased the chances for future depredation by 55 times!
In another study of wolf predation on domestic sheep in the French Alps it was found that confining and/or simply gathering sheep at night in the presence of 5 livestock-guarding dogs prevented most kills (94% and 79%, respectively) that would have occurred in similar conditions but with free ranging sheep.
So, supervision (being there), protecting the young, removing and caring for sick animals, gathering up stock at night, utilizing guardian animals, fencing and carcass removal are some key management practices in a start to reduce predation. It is possible to run livestock with fewer predator losses if proper animal husbandry practices are implemented.
All over the world scientists, environmentalists, ranchers and biologists have looked at this problem. There are over 45 years of research into livestock predation problems. In all this research certain systems of predation control have been proven time and again not to work and worse still, many may even make the problems worse than before. Bounties or “hunting incentives” has been the focus of much of this research and as early as in the 1960’s was proven not to work in reducing predation numbers or having a significant impact on the population.
Research in Southwest Alberta which was aimed at predicting depredation risks based on husbandry practices compared with landscape and biophysical features. In this area culling wolves has traditionally been reactionary to livestock losses, but there is “no evidence to indicate it is an effective long-term solution, as depredation by wolves has been occurring in the study area for decades despite lethal control practices”. [ Muhly, T.B., and M. Musiani. (2009). Livestock depredation by wolves and the ranching economy in the Northwestern U.S., Ecological Economics, doi: 10.1016/j.ecolecon.2009.04.008]
Ironically, predator control, often leads to greater livestock losses by disrupting predator social ecology. A study by Hayes and Harestad found evidence that packs experiencing control and/or hunting had higher mortality rates as a direct consequence of reductions, thus pack sizes are smaller, home ranges were less stable and occupied at variable times and more young are produced in the population. Wolf populations dominated by younger animals with less stable territories are far more likely to attack domestic livestock. Younger animals may breed earlier, and in exploited populations produce more young. Young growing pups consume more biomass (meat) than adults, creating a greater need to obtain food. [Vol. XVII, No. 2 Page 11Government-subsidized Eating Machines]
Many people reason that every animal taken out of the system is one less to deal with, however when there is indiscriminate culling, it does not result in a lowering of livestock predation. On the contrary what happens is that the surviving animals have more food available, therefore can produce and raise larger litters, they come into a shorter breeding cycle either being bred sooner or more often, they can raise more young and the vacuum created by added hunting pressure soon gets filled up by transient animals. The biggest danger with larger predators is that, packs often get fragmentized, these animals regroup into smaller, less efficient packs, these packs that will then mostly consist of juvenile animals that do not have the hunting skills or pack size to be able to hunt normal big wild game and these juveniles will often look for easier prey, which is domestic livestock.
With the added pressure of only hunting one species, as is often the case with bounties, other species will often flourish and then become the “pest”. With bounties on coyotes one will often see an explosion of the gopher ,rabbit or other rodent populations. Focus just on wolves and the coyote population may explode, or the deer and elk will become overabundant causing a lot of agricultural damage (hay bale damage, crop damage and more vehicle collisions). Eradicating or even attempting to eradicate one species out of an ecosystem brings imbalance, the complexities and repercussions are huge.
While elimination of a chronic livestock killer is a good solution, the indiscriminate culling of a species as part of a systematic predator control program, only exacerbates conflicts between livestock producers and predators. In 1957 biologist HT Gier noted that “individual coyotes, not the average animal or the species as a whole, were responsible for the majority of livestock predation”. [ Jay Antle. Against Kansas’s Top Dog; Coyotes, Politics, and Ecology, 1877-1970]
The conclusion from this research was that this form of “control” cost the tax payers and government vast sums of money, has little to no effect on predation, is open to fraud and is not sustainable over time. In fact the worse possible side effect of this form of control is that ranchers are lulled into complacency, thinking that their problem will be solved. A bounty is in fact just a placebo administered by local councils in order to appease ranchers into thinking that “something” is being done.
To mange predation ranchers and local government need to look for methods that are sustainable, manageable solutions and not a quick fix.
The MDs could better utilize (bounty) funds into projects that will benefit ranchers directly and for long term. Money could be better spent on education (manuals, lectures, on site data collection), fencing grants, stimulating the use of guardian animals, employment of a pest control officer and research into predation problems to gain a better understanding of the problems.
However, when I look at this conflict, I cannot help feeling that the real “wolf” in this problem is the economic problems surrounding the livestock industry.
As a sheep and cattle rancher myself, I know what predation is and how it threatens our enterprise, however I am opposed to a bounty system as I feel that it is expensive, proven not to work, and will increase the risk of predation. I believe that controlled hunting or trapping of problem individuals is more effective to the rancher being predated on; education and financial help to improve management would be more beneficial to the rancher.