These ranchers want the public to see the predator side of wolves

A wolf attack on cattle is usually neither quick nor efficient. There’s a long, noisy chase with biting at the legs, flanks and hindquarters. Injuries on the nose and neck are simply indications of a distraction when a number of wolves are involved. Sometimes the dominant wolves will wound the prey, then leave the animal to weaken and stiffen up before returning with the pack for an easy, final kill. Other times, the pack will kill and consume one animal and wound others for later meals.

A wolf kill scene will be strewn with blood, chunks of hair and signs of a life-and-death struggle. The rest of the cattle may be bunched up and agitated from witnessing the attack. Broken tails are a good indicator of a wolf problem — some of the cattle may have injured tails from being harassed by wolves at play or by youngsters practising their skills, though the selected prey’s tail may be intact.

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These harsh images of reality aren’t even remotely similar to those of wolves as mystic guardians of the forests or fuzzy-eared friends that Disney and other famous storytellers, including some well-funded elite environmentalist movements, would have people believe, say Alberta ranchers Hugh Lynch-Staunton of Lundbreck and Larry Sears of Stavely.

Wolf predation has been a nagging problem in southwestern Alberta for a decade or so and the situation has become intolerable within the past two years. Intense wolf activity has been reported in west-central Alberta this fall. The expanding wolf population from Minnesota is causing problems in southeastern Manitoba, while B.C. is observing an increase in wolf numbers and attacks in areas that haven’t traditionally had wolves, such as the south-central interior.

Sears and Lynch-Staunton are among a group of ranchers in southwestern Alberta who have decided it’s time for ranchers to speak out and tell their stories to the public. It’s a side of the wolf story that many urban people haven’t heard because the number of people with rural roots continues to decline and hunting is no longer mainstream.

Urban people have been conditioned to believe that nature is under attack and there is a general shortage of wildlife, Lynch-Staunton explains. They believe that wolves are in short supply and that grizzly bears are fragile and threatened.

Rural people are seeing increasing populations of elk, moose, geese, ducks, grizzlies, cougars and wolves. They are well aware of how adaptable most species have been. In Canada, wolves still inhabit 80 per cent of the territory they did when homesteaders arrived. Wolf populations can increase by 50 per cent a year if they aren’t controlled in areas where there is a plentiful feed supply.

“They are in no danger of being exterminated — there is a far greater possibility of our agricultural way of life disappearing if we don’t use common sense in both policy and regulation,” Sears says. He believes a control program such as that in B.C. might have a chance at being successful in Alberta.

Alberta is home to more wolves and more cattle than any other province in Canada. Wolf control is an emotionally, socially and politically charged issue stemming from the ’60s when there was a great public outcry against the province’s wolf-control measures during the first half-century of settlement. Government policy took an about turn with a new emphasis on protecting wolves. As the wolf population rebounded, complaints about wolf activities grew to more than 2,800 from 1972 to 1990. The government introduced what turned out to be a controversial policy to remove offending wolves where chronic depredation was occurring.

Today’s wolf management policy in Alberta retains the provision for removing problem wolves. However, due to sensitivities, removal is viewed as a last-resort, Band-Aid type of solution. Wildlife management personnel place the emphasis on working with ranchers to try to find a balance.

Based on his experience speaking about wolves, Sears has found that the public generally perceives that society, by virtue of funding the compensation program, is helping ranchers shoulder the losses. The crux of the matter is that animal husbandry comes from the heart. Money doesn’t remove the emotional stress of witnessing fine, healthy stock being killed and maimed by frequent, senseless, wasteful wolf attacks. It doesn’t remove the fear ranching families have for the safety of their children.

“We, as ranchers have an expectation to be able to raise and care for our livestock in an efficient, effective and humane fashion to ensure that our operations can be profit-

able, sustainable and provide affordable food to a large portion of the world,” he stresses. Intensifying wolf attacks and mounting predation losses are jeopardizing ranches at a time when the entire beef industry is barely hobbling along.

Callum Sears, Larry’s son, surveyed 22 ranches in the southwest region in an effort to calculate economic losses in 2007 and 2008. Confirmed wolf kills comprised only 15 to 20 per cent of the economic impact. When adding in the cost of missing animals, suspected losses, injured animals, vet costs and the extra management time involved in findwww.

KILL SCENE INVESTIGATION

Wolves don’t drag their prey to a secluded eating location or cover it with debris as is typical of grizzly bear and cougar kills. If you come across a carcass that has been covered, leave the scene because the predators will be nearby and will defend their claim.

The first feeding for wolves often involves the internal organs, then the hind quarters, and sometimes the neck and ribs. Large bones will be chewed, broken and eventually scattered around the site, whereas coyotes leave the large bones intact and usually only prey on calves. Cougars eat as little hide as possible and leave clean-cut edges, versus the ripping and tearing of meat characteristic of other predators. These stealthy, efficient killers that attack the vertebral column and cinch the kill with a bit to the throat, are the only predator that will remove the prey’s gut before feasting.

Grizzlies usually start at the back of the animal, leaving the hide and bone structure intact. Black bears are inefficient predators and tend to wound more often than kill cattle, so you may see many animals with bite marks on the tops of the shoulders and head. Black bears and coyotes may attack calves as they are being born.

Tissue damage and bruising under the hide in connection with bite marks in the hide are the number one indicators that a predator was involved in the death of an animal. You won’t see the characteristic bruising if an animal died before being scavenged.

Be aware that your animal may have been killed by one species of predator and scavenged by another. Bears, for example, are much more likely to scavenge prey than kill their own. Birds, weather and a delay in finding the carcass can also confuse the signs.

ing animals that had been chased and scattered by wolf packs, the cost was $195,000 in 2007. A year later, it was $380,000 — an increase of almost 96 per cent, part of which could be attributed to ranchers keeping better records the second year.

Not covered in the survey were significant costs such as replacing lost breeding animals and cows aborting due to increased cortisol levels as a result of being chased. There are indirect losses resulting from lost productive capacity either because the cattle won’t stay in an area due to previous wolf attacks there, or they have to be moved from the area as a preventive measure if ranchers have other grazing options. Changes in business management precipitating from repeated wolf kills are reducing ranchers’ incomes as well. Some ranchers are now forgoing the opportunity to earn additional revenue by retaining and finishing their calves, rather than risking losing them to the wolves as weaned calves and yearlings.

Cattle — particularly yearlings — are easy prey because they tend to be more curious than wild ungulates and they don’t jump fences. Attacks and kills occur any time of year, but escalate from August through to November when the adults are training their pups to hunt cattle.

Both ranchers note that the wolf packs in southwestern Alberta don’t come back to their wounded as a matter of course — they prefer fresh victims. They seldom clean up their kill unless food is scarce. Wounded animals can sometimes be saved if the bowel and bladder remain intact, but it’s a long, road to recovery.

There’s not much ranchers can do to discourage predation by wolves if the pack is one that prefers cattle to natural prey, he adds. Multiple-strand electric fencing may be effective for small enclosures and flagging in larger areas may work for a while. Human presence out on the range is one of the best deterrents.

In Alberta, ranchers or their agents are allowed to hunt down predators that are within 10 kilometres of where their cattle are kept. However, there are restrictions on trapping and poisoning is not permitted. Hunting is complicated by the fact that the packs with histories of being collared for monitoring, tracked by planes, or shot at become very wary and difficult to find.

Regardless of whether ranchers are enduring tough times or enjoying profitable times, it seems naive and impractical that the public at large puts wolves on a pedestal above ranch families and their cattle, Sears says. Mankind, too, is part of the ecosystem and a key one at that.

But the public’s perception of wolves won’t change without a significant and sustained effort on the part of ranchers to search out the facts and make them publicly available.

They urge ranchers to take every opportunity to open doors by telling their stories to urban people. Learn about the habits of predators so that you can do the best job possible managing your ranches and be open to working with honest environmentalists and others to help minimize conflicts.

Ed. Note: In Our Upcoming February Issue We Will Look At A Wolf-Control Program In B.C. That Is Showing Some Promise.

KILL SCENE INVESTIGATION

Wolves don’t drag their prey to a secluded eating location or cover it with debris as is typical of grizzly bear and cougar kills. If you come across a carcass that has been covered, leave the scene because the predators will be nearby and will defend their claim.

The first feeding for wolves often involves the internal organs, then the hind quarters, and sometimes the neck and ribs. Large bones will be chewed, broken and eventually scattered around the site, whereas coyotes leave the large bones intact and usually only prey on calves. Cougars eat as little hide as possible and leave clean-cut edges, versus the ripping and tearing of meat characteristic of other predators. These stealthy, efficient killers that attack the vertebral column and cinch the kill with a bit to the throat, are the only predator that will remove the prey’s gut before feasting.

Grizzlies usually start at the back of the animal, leaving the hide and bone structure intact. Black bears are inefficient predators and tend to wound more often than kill cattle, so you may see many animals with bite marks on the tops of the shoulders and head. Black bears and coyotes may attack calves as they are being born.

Tissue damage and bruising under the hide in connection with bite marks in the hide are the number one indicators that a predator was involved in the death of an animal. You won’t see the characteristic bruising if an animal died before being scavenged.

Be aware that your animal may have been killed by one species of predator and scavenged by another. Bears, for example, are much more likely to scavenge prey than kill their own. Birds, weather and a delay in finding the carcass can also confuse the signs.

ing animals that had been chased and scattered by wolf packs, the cost was $195,000 in 2007. A year later, it was $380,000 — an increase of almost 96 per cent, part of which could be attributed to ranchers keeping better records the second year.

Not covered in the survey were significant costs such as replacing lost breeding animals and cows aborting due to increased cortisol levels as a result of being chased. There are indirect losses resulting from lost productive capacity either because the cattle won’t stay in an area due to previous wolf attacks there, or they have to be moved from the area as a preventive measure if ranchers have other grazing options. Changes in business management precipitating from repeated wolf kills are reducing ranchers’ incomes as well. Some ranchers are now forgoing the opportunity to earn additional revenue by retaining and finishing their calves, rather than risking losing them to the wolves as weaned calves and yearlings.

Cattle — particularly yearlings — are easy prey because they tend to be more curious than wild ungulates and they don’t jump fences. Attacks and kills occur any time of year, but escalate from August through to November when the adults are training their pups to hunt cattle.

Both ranchers note that the wolf packs in southwestern Alberta don’t come back to their wounded as a matter of course — they prefer fresh victims. They seldom clean up their kill unless food is scarce. Wounded animals can sometimes be saved if the bowel and bladder remain intact, but it’s a long, road to recovery.

There’s not much ranchers can do to discourage predation by wolves if the pack is one that prefers cattle to natural prey, he adds. Multiple-strand electric fencing may be effective for small enclosures and flagging in larger areas may work for a while. Human presence out on the range is one of the best deterrents.

In Alberta, ranchers or their agents are allowed to hunt down predators that are within 10 kilometres of where their cattle are kept. However, there are restrictions on trapping and poisoning is not permitted. Hunting is complicated by the fact that the packs with histories of being collared for monitoring, tracked by planes, or shot at become very wary and difficult to find.

Regardless of whether ranchers are enduring tough times or enjoying profitable times, it seems naive and impractical that the public at large puts wolves on a pedestal above ranch families and their cattle, Sears says. Mankind, too, is part of the ecosystem and a key one at that.

But the public’s perception of wolves won’t change without a significant and sustained effort on the part of ranchers to search out the facts and make them publicly available.

They urge ranchers to take every opportunity to open doors by telling their stories to urban people. Learn about the habits of predators so that you can do the best job possible managing your ranches and be open to working with honest environmentalists and others to help minimize conflicts.

Ed. Note: In Our Upcoming February Issue We Will Look At A Wolf-Control Program In B.C. That Is Showing Some Promise.

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