The Cash Cows of Catron County

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When a rancher claims to have lost livestock due to Mexican wolf predation, there are several ways that they can seek compensation. One of those ways is a program run by the U.S.D.A Farm Services Agency (FSA) known as the Livestock Indemnity Program (LIP), which provides compensation for livestock lost due to attack by animals reintroduced to the wild by the Federal Government. To get this compensation: “Owners or contract growers who suffer livestock losses due to an eligible cause of loss must submit a notice of loss and an application for payment to the local FSA office that serves the physical location county where the livestock losses occurred. All of the owner’s or contract grower’s interest in inventory of eligible livestock in that county for the calendar year must be accounted for and summarized when determining eligibility.” In short, the ranchers’ say so is all they really need for proof.

In 2020, the FSA paid out $588,940.19 under the LIP for livestock lost in 2019 in Catron County, New Mexico because of Mexican wolves. This money went to just eleven livestock owners, for 1130 head. Yes, 1,130 head of “beef.” I confirmed twice that there were only wolf payments in 2019 and no weather-related claims.

According to the US Fish and Wildlife Service there were just 87 wolves in New Mexico in 2019. If all the wolves in New Mexico in 2019 were responsible for the loss or injury of 1130 head of livestock on these 11 ranches in Catron County, it would mean that each wolf was responsible for the death or injury of nearly 13 head of cattle in 2019, and that cattle were being killed or injured at the rate of three a day on just these ranches.

Now this whole equation is clouded by the fact that FSA won’t provide specific numbers or classes of livestock claimed in the supposed killings, but the average per head rate is $521.18, which suggests there are a lot of young calves in the mix. (See 2019 fee payment rate.)

So, let’s game that out: The second highest paid recipient of LIP funds in Catron County in 2019 was Canyon del Buey (yes, that Canyon del Buey) and it raked in $89,395 for lost livestock. Using the average rate of payment per head ($521.18) – which is just a best guess of how to calculate this – Canyon del Buey claimed to have lost somewhere in the neighborhood of 170 head in 2019. (Mind you, this permit was revoked in August 2019, and so the claim reflects ~170 head in just 8 months.) The Canyon del Buey allotment’s Forest Service annual operating instructions only authorized a max of 286 cow/calf pairsthat year. Like I said, that 170 is just an estimate and my best guess based on the information available. Maybe Canyon del Buey lost a bunch of $1,191 bulls instead – but it would have had to lose 75 bulls in 8 months to qualify for nearly $90K in 2019.

That’s a lot of bull.

Greta Anderson is a plant nerd, a desert rat, and a fan of wildness. She is the Deputy Director of Western Watersheds Project.

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