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Focus on removing the real predators, the ones that are killing cattle, and ignore the rest

Employees at a B.C. community pasture with a long history of predator problems were at their wits’ end. Attacks were happening year after year despite the use of poisons and other means to remove wolves.

All of that changed five years ago, after the wildlife control specialist from the Wild Predator Loss, Control and Compensation Program (WPLCCP) arrived at the pasture and started selectively removing the offending wolves. The pasture has been predation-free since then and the cattle are now grazing areas of the range they hadn’t dared occupy for years.

This was of one of the earliest successes of a new approach to predator control introduced to B.C. in 2003. The WPLCCP evolved from public pressure against traditional wolf control methods and evidence that none of the historic methods were truly effective in resolving predator-livestock conflicts. It was unique in that it was administered by the B.C. Cattlemen’s Association, under the authority of a permit from the Ministry of Environment and endorsed by interest groups, such as Defenders of Wildlife Canada and the B.C. Trappers Association. The aim was to reduce cattle losses due to predation through the use of preventative measures, education, targeting offending predators, and compensating ranchers for kills verified by a wildlife control specialist.

The WPLCCP was replaced this past August with the Wild Predator Loss Prevention-Mitigation Pilot Program. It is administered by the Agricultural Research and Development Corporation under the Ministry of Agriculture and hopefully will maintain a similar level of service to producers.

Kyle Lay of Williams Lake was the WPLCCP’s first wildlife control specialist. No surprise there to anyone familiar with his background. His grandfather was a predator control officer starting in the early 1950s, his father Dan was a wildlife control officer in the early ’70s, and his two uncles were conservation officers who specialized in predator control. His father designed the traps and developed the art of selective removal of problem predators that underpins this whole program.

During the family’s 60 years of experience, Lay says they tried every type of predator control method devised in North America. The most valuable lesson they gained was that simply killing wolves for being wolves doesn’t stop livestock losses. In contrast, removing only the offending predators has proven effective.

Kyle’s father Dan recently shared his knowledge of predator habits with the B.C. Cattlemen’s Association (BCCA) in its publication of a field guide for ranchers on mitigating cattle losses cause by wild predators. The well-illustrated booklet lays out the characteristic indicators of predation by wolves, coyotes, cougars, grizzly bears and black bears producers need to look for when attempting to verify a predator attack. A kill must be verified before a rancher can obtain the services of the wildlife control specialist.

“Everyone agrees that if the wildlife is not causing losses, there is no problem to be addressed,” says Lay. “If a problem is identified, the offenders are addressed and the losses stop. Non-offending and non-target species remain unaffected. The process of verification and documentation of the losses allows clear representation as to what is taking place.”

The program could lose its permit if it responds to requests for assistance from ranchers who haven’t been able to confirm that their cattle losses are due to predation. This has sometimes been a source of frustration for ranchers facing a dire situation. However, cattle deaths due to poisonous plants or illness can look like predator attacks when all they see is some animal consuming a carcass. Getting rid of scavengers won’t halt attacks by the

predators that have developed a taste for killing cattle.

A well-documented case with photos can take as few as five days to wrap up. The files that present problems are in areas where wolves have been shot at, poisoned and, or trapped during past attempts to remove a pack. Those can take two weeks or more to resolve because the wolves are wise to human activity.

Circumstances dictate whether an entire pack has to be removed, or only certain individuals. Sometimes when you remove the decision maker — 90 to 95 per cent of the time this is the alpha female — and the upper hierarchy of the pack, the remaining wolves will go back to preying on wild ungulates. The concern with removing the entire pack is that another one will move into the territory and the new ones may be cattle predators. “If you can keep a group of non-problem wolves in a territory, they will be the best gate keepers a ranch can have, better than any guard dog or gun,” Lay says.

For Lay and the other trained specialists using this system, the true reward is in working with ranchers to solve the cases. Though there’s no denying that predator attacks on cattle are terrible, taking an active role in the control effort helps ranchers turn the situation into a positive and empower-

LAY’S TOP TIPS

1. Keep records.

Whether or not you believe you have a predator problem or anticipate that you may have one in the future, begin to gather information now. A producer who knows approximately how many wolves frequent the area and when, where bears like to feed, whether there are any cougar or coyotes making the ranch their home, and how cattle react when predators are near, are time and dollars ahead of those that don’t keep track of these types of these sightings. The information can only be gathered by being on the ground and watching for signs — something that could be part of your daily routine when you’re checking or feeding livestock. The bonus is that any increase in the level of human activity with livestock can be a deterrent to predators.

2. If predators are a concern, avoid fall calving.

Producers who attempt to fall calve find themselves at a disadvantage due to the fact that every wild animal is preparing to go into winter and is looking for easy, high-protein, high-energy food sources. Most wild animals, particularly the prey species, spend the spring babysitting. Spring calving has two obvious benefits — the young are growing in warm weather, and the wild animals are having their young at the same time, so the odds of your cattle being attacked go down. 3. Properly manage dead pits.

Basic management of dead pits can greatly decrease the number of predators that frequent an area. The idea of a well-managed pit is that carcasses are buried year round. While animals can be buried spring, summer and fall on an as-needed basis, winter burials require some foresight. The hole must be dug in the fall, and the fill dirt left around the hole so that at least some of it can be scraped over the carcass to keep the predators off until spring when it can be filled in.

The connection between dead pits and wolves often goes unnoticed. When wolves have easy access to this food source, the females will produce a greater number of larger and healthier offspring because they will go into pregnancy in excellent health — a situation that may not be natural in all areas.

ing experience in the long run. “We have had producers who had an established problem, and once we removed the offending wolves, their entire outlook on wolves change when a new pack of wolves take over the local territory and never give the livestock a second look,” Lay explains. “Those wolves become the producer’s new best friends very quickly. This remains true for other predators as well. Most easily witnessed are bears.”

Wolf numbers are increasing and they are spreading throughout Western Canada. Though wolf sightings and attacks come as an abrupt shock to producers who haven’t seen wolves in the recent past, Kyle says all livestock producers will have to learn to manage their operations around wolves because the predators will always be there.

Lay and his dad have met with beef producers in Alberta to help establish a similar wildlife balance through the same type of work that has taken place in B.C.

LAY’S TOP TIPS

1. Keep records.

Whether or not you believe you have a predator problem or anticipate that you may have one in the future, begin to gather information now. A producer who knows approximately how many wolves frequent the area and when, where bears like to feed, whether there are any cougar or coyotes making the ranch their home, and how cattle react when predators are near, are time and dollars ahead of those that don’t keep track of these types of these sightings. The information can only be gathered by being on the ground and watching for signs — something that could be part of your daily routine when you’re checking or feeding livestock. The bonus is that any increase in the level of human activity with livestock can be a deterrent to predators.

2. If predators are a concern, avoid fall calving.

Producers who attempt to fall calve find themselves at a disadvantage due to the fact that every wild animal is preparing to go into winter and is looking for easy, high-protein, high-energy food sources. Most wild animals, particularly the prey species, spend the spring babysitting. Spring calving has two obvious benefits — the young are growing in warm weather, and the wild animals are having their young at the same time, so the odds of your cattle being attacked go down. 3. Properly manage dead pits.

Basic management of dead pits can greatly decrease the number of predators that frequent an area. The idea of a well-managed pit is that carcasses are buried year round. While animals can be buried spring, summer and fall on an as-needed basis, winter burials require some foresight. The hole must be dug in the fall, and the fill dirt left around the hole so that at least some of it can be scraped over the carcass to keep the predators off until spring when it can be filled in.

The connection between dead pits and wolves often goes unnoticed. When wolves have easy access to this food source, the females will produce a greater number of larger and healthier offspring because they will go into pregnancy in excellent health — a situation that may not be natural in all areas.

ing experience in the long run. “We have had producers who had an established problem, and once we removed the offending wolves, their entire outlook on wolves change when a new pack of wolves take over the local territory and never give the livestock a second look,” Lay explains. “Those wolves become the producer’s new best friends very quickly. This remains true for other predators as well. Most easily witnessed are bears.”

Wolf numbers are increasing and they are spreading throughout Western Canada. Though wolf sightings and attacks come as an abrupt shock to producers who haven’t seen wolves in the recent past, Kyle says all livestock producers will have to learn to manage their operations around wolves because the predators will always be there.

Lay and his dad have met with beef producers in Alberta to help establish a similar wildlife balance through the same type of work that has taken place in B.C.

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