Landowners share their wolf impacts

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--Wyoming Farm Bureau Foundation Symposium

By Kerin Clark, Wyoming Farm Bureau Federation (Written May 2006)

The landowners panel at “Wolves:  Wyoming’s Reality” urged the Fish and Wildlife Service to become proactive versus reactive.  “We need immediate legislative action to protect the livestock and the wildlife from the wolf’s stomach,” Dick Thoman, Sweetwater County rancher, said.  “We sustained a 22 percent loss in one year and none of those losses were verified by Wildlife Services so recouping those losses is out of the question.”

“The Defenders of Wildlife says they will pay on our verified losses, but to date we have not been paid for the last three years of losses,” Thoman explained.

“We need a solution for livestock producers that is immediate because we cannot continue sustaining these types of losses,” Thoman concluded.

Karla Gitlitz, who with her husband Chancy, manages the 91 Ranch near Meeteetse shared photos of wolf kills and the impacts they have felt from wolves.  Gitlitz separated the impacts into four different areas:  1) Death loss impacts; 2) Stress and financial impact; 3) Management impacts; and 4) Wildlife impacts.

The cattle death loss on the ranch has increased in the last four years.  Gitlitz shared gut-wrenching photos of wolf kills.  Documentation is necessary to attempt to prove the wolf kills.  When the federal government came to verify the kills they asked questions like:  “Are you sure there is no poison here?; the age of the cows, why I’m not sure—I’m sure they did not all have heart attacks within a couple hundred feet of each other,” Gitlitz explained.  “But each one of these cows had young calves, the oldest was three weeks old, they were all young, viable cows that we could have had for at least another 5-7 years.”

“So, what is this worth?,” Gitlitz asked.  “Four dead cows and four motherless calves are worth one old wolf.  They told us they could not kill the female, they had their den just above the kill site, because the pups couldn’t survive without her.  You know the calves can’t survive without their mother when they are that age either.”

“These animals have all been killed less than one mile from where my son plays,” Gitlitz stated.

The stress and financial impact is hard to quantify.  Gitlitz shared how calm cows began attacking the truck; cows who survive wolf attacks come in open and some cows have their udders ripped off and are no longer viable.  “The stress of the attacks and constant fear have taken a toll on the cows,” Gitlitz explained.

“Since the appearance of wolves on our ranch we have had many impacts to the way that we manage the everyday operations of the ranch,” Gitlitz said.  “Like I said earlier, Chancy is not here because we have baby calves on the ground and we have a pack of wolves running through us.”

Gitlitz stated that shrinkage is caused by cattle bunching up in corners of pastures.  “On hot days, cows are kept from the bottoms with the watering holes because the wolves are there,” She said.

“We check our cattle everyday, I’m talking we go through every single animal,” She said.  “We find an ear tag and a front leg and that is all that is left.  You have to be right there to see it so it can be verified a wolf kill.”

Watching wolves run through or herd your livestock and know that there is nothing that you can do to help is hard.  “Last summer, I sat and watched as an Alpha Male and a pup herded our cows up in a canyon.  They’re not scared, they come right up to our yard fence, when we are dragging fields they come right up to us, they are not scared.”

“We take pride in everything that is on the ranch and we take pride in the wildlife,” Gitlitz said.  We watch the elk herds on our ranch decrease dramatically, it is a common site to see carcasses all over Carter Mountain, but most of them are not consumed.”

The 91 Ranch used to have 4,000 head of elk on the property.  “In the last two years, we have only seen a couple hundred,” Gitlitz said.

“As ranchers it is our goal to keep our ranching operation running in the black under normal circumstances,” Gitlitz said.  “With current management of the wolves, this has become a tremendous detriment to this goal.  Historically our industry has had control of predator impacts; with the current reintroduction of wolves there is no control for the increased death loss, stress, and management costs of wildlife and livestock.”

“No babies should have to live with the stress of wolves at their doorsteps,” Gitlitz concluded.

The Upper Green River Cattleman Association, represented by President Albert Sommers and Treasurer Charles Price, presented data they have collected on wolf and grizzly bear impacts in the Upper Green River Cattle Allotment on the Bridger Teton National Forest.

The data shows that pre-grizzly bear the livestock had a two percent loss, grizzly only had a four percent loss and with the grizzly/wolf combination a 5.7 percent loss.

“The dollar amount loss paid by producers is $217,000.  Other losses paid by the G&F Grizzly compensation program and Defenders of Wildlife wolf account total $131,500,” Sommers explained.  “There is a disproportionate share of cost.  A few producers are sharing too much of the cost on this public program.”