FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Livestock and Predators

One of the unquestioned and unspoken assumptions heard across the West is that ranchers have a right to a predator free environment. Even environmental groups like Defenders of Wildlife more or less legitimize this perspective by supporting unqualified compensation for livestock losses to bears and wolves. And many state agency wolf management plans specifically call for compensation to livestock producers—but without any requirements that livestock husbandry practices be in place to reduce or eliminate predation opportunity.

In a sense, ranchers have externalized one of their costs of business, namely practicing animal husbandry that eliminates or significantly reduces predator losses. Most of these proven techniques involve more time and expense than ranchers have traditionally had to pay, in part, because they have been successful in making the rest of us believe it was a public responsibility to eliminate predators and not a private business cost.

This is not unlike how power companies have successfully transferred one of their costs of doing business—namely reducing air pollution from burning coal—on to the public at large and the environment. Ranchers have been doing the same transfer of costs in the West for decades. And it is not limited just to predator control. When livestock trample riparian areas, destroy soil crusts, pollute waters, eat forage that would otherwise support native herbivores, spread disease that harms wildlife (as with bighorn sheep), and spread weeds, the environment, and ultimately the taxpayers and citizens of this country are absorbing the costs, while the ranchers gets the profits.

And so it is with predators. Killing predators to appease the livestock industry is nothing more than another subsidy to an industry that is already living off the public largess, in part, because most predator losses are completely avoidable with proper animal husbandry techniques.

For instance, prompt removal of dead animals from fields, and burial of the remains can significantly reduce attracting predators. One recent study in Oregon showed a very strong association between wolf packs and bone piles—places where ranchers dump dead cattle. Obviously one-way to avoid attracting wolves to ranches is to bury all dead animals. One study in Minnesota found that rapid removal of dead animals from livestock operations could reduce a second predation event by 55 times!

In Chile, where the killing of cougars is outlawed, many sheep producers utilize lambing sheds and nighttime corralling in pens to protect flocks.

In Europe where many countries ban the killing of predators like wolves, livestock producers have adopted other measures to reduce predator losses. The use of guard dogs with shepherds is particularly effective, again significantly reducing predation losses. One study found that the combined use of these techniques could reduce predation losses by better than 90%. When you are talking about only several hundred wolf attributed livestock losses a year in each of the states of Montana, Idaho and Wyoming, a 90% reduction would bring these losses down to a negligible figure—and one that would remove nearly all demand for any predator control.

In Minnesota where there are nearly double the number of wolves that are found in the entire northern Rockies states of Idaho, Wyoming and Montana combined, farmers there are encouraged to adopt measures that reduce predator opportunity in order to qualify for state livestock compensation. After a depredation, a state official visits the farm, and discusses any measures that could be adopted to reduce future livestock losses. The farmer must sign an agreement to implement any changes in order to qualify for any future compensation payments.

These are only a few of the proven mechanisms that collectively could sharply reduce predator losses, indeed, perhaps to the point where wolves, cougars, and other predators are no longer a significant issue.

Of course, because the ranching community believes it has a right to kill predators, and in fact, believes that society should help them kill predators; there is not much incentive for changing policies.

Ironically one of the best ways to reduce predation losses may be to stop killing predators. There is a growing body of evidence that suggests killing wolves; cougars, coyotes, and bears actually increase social chaos leading to greater predation losses. The reasons include the fact that hunted predator populations tend to be skewed towards younger animals that are less skillful hunters, thus more likely to attack livestock. And in more stable predator populations, older mature animals, and larger stable packs can maintain territories that can keep young and unskilled animals away from livestock operations. Thus predator control often leads to more livestock depredation, and more calls for predator control.

There is good evidence to suggest that if states minimized predator control to surgical removal of proven chronic livestock killers, as well as mandated proper animal husbandry practices, nearly all of the conflicts over predator management could be avoided, including the unnecessary killing of predators.

But until the public and in particular environmental groups start challenging the assumption that ranchers deserve an environment free of predator losses, we can expect no changes in behavior and only the on-going and unnecessary killing of predators.

GEORGE WUERTHNER is an ecologist and former Montana hunting guide.

 

 

More articles by:

George Wuerthner has published 36 books including Wildfire: A Century of Failed Forest Policy. He serves on the board of the Western Watersheds Project.

June 20, 2018
Bill Hackwell
Unprecedented Cruelty Against Immigrants and Their Children
Paul Atwood
“What? You Think We’re So Innocent?”
Nicola Perugini
The Palestinian Tipping Point
K.J. Noh
Destiny and Daring: South Korean President Moon Jae-In’s Impossible Journey Towards Peace
Gary Leupp
Jeff Sessions and St. Paul’s Clear and Wise Commands
M. G. Piety
On Speaking Small Truths to Power
Dave Lindorff
Some Straight Talk for Younger People on Social Security (and Medicare too)
George Wuerthner
The Public Value of Forests as Carbon Reserves
CJ Hopkins
Confession of a Putin-Nazi Denialist
David Schultz
Less Than Fundamental:  the Myth of Voting Rights in America
Rohullah Naderi
The West’s Over-Publicized Development Achievements in Afghanistan 
Dan Bacher
California Lacks Real Marine Protection as Offshore Drilling Expands in State Waters
Lori Hanson – Miguel Gomez
The Students of Nicaragua’s April Uprising
Russell Mokhiber
Are Corporations Are Behind Frivolous Lawsuits Against Corporations?
Michael Welton
Infusing Civil Society With Hope for a Better World
June 19, 2018
Ann Robertson - Bill Leumer
We Can Thank Top Union Officials for Trump
Lawrence Davidson
The Republican Party Falls Apart, the Democrats Get Stuck
Sheldon Richman
Trump, North Korea, and Iran
Richard Rubenstein
Trump the (Shakespearean) Fool: a New Look at the Dynamics of Trumpism
Kevin Zeese - Margaret Flowers
Protect Immigrant Rights; End the Crises That Drive Migration
Gary Leupp
Norway: Just Withdraw From NATO
Kristine Mattis
Nerd Culture, Adultolescence, and the Abdication of Social Priorities
Mike Garrity
The Forest Service Should Not be Above the Law
Colin Todhunter
Pro-GMO Activism And Smears Masquerade As Journalism: From Seralini To Jairam Ramesh, Aruna Rodrigues Puts The Record Straight
Doug Rawlings
Does the Burns/Novick Vietnam Documentary Deserve an Emmy?
Kenneth Surin
2018 Electioneering in Appalachian Virginia
Nino Pagliccia
Chrystia Freeland Fails to See the Emerging Multipolar World
John Forte
Stuart Hall and Us
June 18, 2018
Paul Street
Denuclearize the United States? An Unthinkable Thought
John Pilger
Bring Julian Assange Home
Conn Hallinan
The Spanish Labyrinth
Patrick Cockburn
Attacking Hodeidah is a Deliberate Act of Cruelty by the Trump Administration
Gary Leupp
Trump Gives Bibi Whatever He Wants
Thomas Knapp
Child Abductions: A Conversation It’s Hard to Believe We’re Even Having
Robert Fisk
I Spoke to Palestinians Who Still Hold the Keys to Homes They Fled Decades Ago – Many are Still Determined to Return
Steve Early
Requiem for a Steelworker: Mon Valley Memories of Oil Can Eddie
Jim Scheff
Protect Our National Forests From an Increase in Logging
Adam Parsons
Reclaiming the UN’s Radical Vision of Global Economic Justice
Dean Baker
Manufacturing Production Falls in May and No One Notices
Laura Flanders
Bottom-Up Wins in Virginia’s Primaries
Binoy Kampmark
The Anguish for Lost Buildings: Embers and Death at the Victoria Park Hotel
Weekend Edition
June 15, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Dan Kovalik
The US & Nicaragua: a Case Study in Historical Amnesia & Blindness
Jeremy Kuzmarov
Yellow Journalism and the New Cold War
Charles Pierson
The Day the US Became an Empire
Jonathan Cook
How the Corporate Media Enslave Us to a World of Illusions
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail