Finding answers to livestock depredation

BOULDER – The Sublette County Predator Board hosted a workshop at the Boulder Community Center on March 30 for ranchers whose cattle and sheep are preyed upon by gray wolves, mountain lions and grizzly and black bears.

The audience heard from a panel of county, state and federal employees to deal with the big question after finding dead or injured livestock – “What do I do now?”

Predator Board secretary Cat Urbigkit and president Pete Arambel introduced a panel with answers to more questions – what do I do, who do I contact, how do I contact them, can I get compensation. 


USDA Wildlife Services manager Rod Merrill explained if a rancher or rider finds a suspicious kill, the first important piece of information is “where it occurs.”

This determines what agency might offer compensation for losses.

If a suspected wolf-kill is within Wyoming’s gray wolf trophy game management area, it’s managed by Wyoming Game and Fish. The state wildlife agency also manages livestock problems with black bears, grizzlies and mountain lions across the state.

To be reimbursed for livestock losses in the TGMA, a kill must be confirmed as soon as possible by Game and Fish (or Wildlife Services) investigators. Game and Fish decides on a solution – if a grizzly should be relocated or wolves removed.

For wolf kills outside in the state’s predator zone, the county board asks Wildlife Services to step in. On public lands, WS has federal authority. On private property, WS needs a written “permission slip” from a landowner to enter and investigate, according to Merrill.

Ranchers can call any member of the Sublette County Predator Board. 

When? Who?

Everyone agreed it is difficult to find injured or killed livestock in a timely manner, especially in summer with larger herds turned out to pasture, thousands of acres of grazing allotments, heat and other wildlife damages .

For example, a wolf might leave tracks checking out a grizzly kill. A bear might feed on a wolf kill. And coyotes and ravens can scavenge enough to make confirmation more complicated.

All of the agencies have good working relationships and respond to reported kills within a day, Merrill said. To investigate, Wildlife Services needs a “permission slip” from the livestock owner.

Time is of the essence, Merrill explained.

“I lost three calves three months ago’ won’t cut it,” he said. “Birds and coyotes will eat (a carcass) up so fast – with picked-over bones it’s pretty hard to say what happened.”

He said the scene should be preserved so an investigator can read what happened – “Don’t drag it back to the barn.”

Arambel asked about covering a carcass with a tarp. Merrill said it might help prevent some scavenging. Photos of tracks around the kill and videos can be helpful but he would “be uncomfortable with only pictures for information.”

Game and Fish large predator control’s Clint Atkinson said he or someone trained has to examine the kill “in person” and look for bites and bruises under the hide. But if a kill is found hours away on horseback, for example, he would examine the hide if a rider brought it out.

The main thing is to call Game and Fish as soon as possible, he said.

Once a kill is confirmed, the respective agency writes an affidavit that must accompany a damage claim.

For Game and Fish compensation, ranchers must report total confirmed kills within 15 days of the end of the season with the official Game and Fish damage claim and affidavit of confirmation.

Wyoming Game and Fish Commission sets specific “multipliers” for different ages and sex of confirmed kills that consider the livestock’s purpose for breeding or sale.

‘Only tool’

Cotton Bousman pointed out in the remote, rugged wolf predator zone, ranchers usually don’t find missing livestock in time for predation to be confirmed, especially at the south end of the Wind River Range.

This means WS responds only after a loss occurs; he would like “more money to manage wolves in the predator zone.”

“Four years ago, 10 wolves were killed between Thanksgiving and Christmas,” Bousman said. “I got zero compensation that year. Wildlife Services is the only tool we have in the predator zone.”

Several times in the predator zone, WS tried to use its helicopter in a very rugged landscape, much more expensive than trapping or flying a fixed-wing for control work. The cost of removing a wolf depends on a lot of factors, Merrill said.

“It varies from area to area,” he said. “It’s easier to kill a wolf in the Upper Green River than over in your rock piles.”

WS will invest in several summer riders who will look for dead or injured livestock.

Wyoming Department of Agriculture covers WS’s wolf work and it could be worth asking the state for “more money to get our damage level down,” Arambel said.

The legislature set aside compensation money for the Department of Ag but the program ends in June – “I don’t think a lot of people understood what the program was for,” Urbigkit said

Jerry Johnson is the Department of Ag’s Animal Damage Management Board contact.

FSA option

Another compensation option for livestock losses – with a very wide umbrella – was explained by Wyoming program specialist Annie Bryce, from USDA’s Farm Services Agency.

Bryce attended for Rock Springs Service Center agent Rebecca Kelly, who is the first contact for FSA’s national livestock indemnity program.

The national program compensates for livestock losses at market value and isn’t used to its full potential, Bryce explained.

These include confirmed confirmed predator-zone or TGMA wolf kills. Accepted losses also include blizzards, drought, larkspur, algae blooms, vehicle accidents, unaccounted for and even old age, she said.

Ranchers need to report “any sort of losses” within 30 days,” Bryce said. Once a loss is reported, FSA opens a file and a producer has until the end of the year, Jan. 30, to apply for payment.

The producer must keep very good “proof of death loss” herd records as well as photos with dates, information about nearby wolf or bear sightings and any other factors that could add to proof of losses.

A photo of dead cows in a patch of larkspur adds weight to the claim, Bryce said.

“You’ll need to convince your (FSA) county committee it is an eligible cause of loss,” she said. For example, if 300 cows go out to summer pasture and are 20 short when gathered, call FSA each time and file it all together at the end of the year, Bryce advised.