John Motsinger | Posted on 07 June 2011 |
On Sunday, our Rocky Mountain Director Mike Leahy got his letter to the editor published in the Billings Gazette, calling into question the number of livestock losses reported in that paper in late May. The original story relied upon unverified data gathered during a survey of ranchers in the region conducted by the U. S. Department of Agriculture. Though the survey continues to show that wolves are responsible for only a tiny fraction of livestock losses, it reports 23 times more cattle lost to wolves than the yearly report from the Fish and Wildlife Service. Furthermore, only the latter requires federal agents to investigate the report to confirm that wolves were in fact responsible for the lost livestock. The FWS data paint a very different picture–one where overall losses in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming have actually fallen since 2009.
Here’s what Mike had to say:
USDA wolf survey raises some concerns
Now that wolves have been delisted in Montana and Idaho, a key part of responsible management will be figuring out how best to address ongoing conflicts with livestock that share the landscape. And getting an accurate assessment of the real impacts that wolves have is critical to that endeavor.
So it was with concern that I read Tom Lutey’s story (“Wolves killing fewer cattle in Wyoming than in Montana, Idaho,” May 23), describing the results of a survey conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, with no mention of competing accounts of livestock loss.
The USDA cattle report, which comes from speculative and anonymous unconfirmed reports from ranchers, indicates a total of 4,437 head of cattle were lost to wolves across Wyoming, Montana and Idaho in 2010. For comparison, the 2010 annual wolf report issued by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service indicates there were just 188 confirmed cattle losses to wolves. The latter are verified by field agents based on evidence collected from the site of the incident in addition to the rancher’s report.
Are more livestock lost to wolves than we have resources to confirm? Yes. Is it likely the number is more than 23 times higher? Not a chance.
Experienced investigators know how hard it can sometimes be to confirm that an animal was killed by a predator, let alone killed specifically by a wolf. Simply blaming those extra livestock losses on wolves doesn’t make it so. Nor does it help Montana and Idaho plan for a future where wolves and livestock can better coexist.
Rocky Mountain Director
Defenders of Wildlife