LIVESTOCK DIE. Sheep and cattle die in slaughterhouses, the weather kills them as do dogs and poisons and predators. But every time a wolf kills cattle or sheep, newspapers report it in bold headlines and radio stations broadcast it with dramatic overtones-it’s considered BIG NEWS. However, if a cow or sheep is killed by a dog, another predator, or lightening& well, apparently that’s not news because the incident isn’t reported. Ralph Thisted used to ranch in the Nine Mile Valley (just northwest of Missoula), and he told us that he lost cattle every year to logging trucks. “But that never made the news,” he said. Nor did anyone broach the notion of removing logging trucks from the Nine Mile in order to protect livestock.
Following some highly reported depredations here in Montana, numerous people came up to Pat or me and said, “Wolves really are a big problem aren’t they?” And who could blame them? Based on what’s reported, one would think that wolves slaughter livestock right and left. So, in order to put wolf depredations into perspective, here are some numbers to consider; they come from the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service (www.usda.gov/nass/). The starred numbers are from 2001, the rest are from 2000-this is because some numbers for each category weren’t all available for 2000 or 2001. Also, the wolf depredations are from 2001 because they’re higher than 2000. Predator categories for sheep mortalities include coyotes, bobcats, bears, mountain lions, eagles, dogs, fox, and other. There are so few wolf depredations that those numbers are included in the category of “other”. Non-Predator categories for sheep mortalities include weather, disease, lambing complications, poison, old age, on back (sheep that suffocate when they roll on their back to get rid of keds [sheep ticks] and can’t get up again), theft, and other known causes Statistics for cattle aren’t broken down into categories.
SHEEP – Idaho – Wyoming – Montana
- Total Non-Predator – 30400 – 39000 – 66000
- Weather – 3600 – 12600 – 7000
- On-Back – 200 – 1000 – 1300
- Poison – 1300 – 3700 – 1900
- Total Predator – 11600 – 48000 – 18900
- Dogs – 1300 – 600 – 1300
- Wolves – 54* – 34* – 50*
- TOTAL MORTALITY – 42000 – 87000 – 84900
CATTLE – Idaho – Wyoming – Montana
- Total Non-Predator – Unavailable – 44100 – Unavailable
- Total Predator – 2600 – 3900 – 3800
- Wolves – 10* – 20* – 10*
- TOTAL MORTALITY – Unavailable – 48000 – Unavailable
- * indicates 2001 numbers, all others are from 2000.
- Weather, On Back, & Poison are 3 categories of 8 listed under Non-Predator for Sheep.
- Dogs is 1 category of 8 listed under Predator for Sheep.
LIVESTOCK – TOTALS – Idaho – Wyoming – Montana – United States
- SHEEP – 275,000 – 570,000 – 370,000 – 8,500,000
- CATTLE – 1,950,000 – 1,580,000 – 2,600,000 – 106,300,000
We believe these numbers demonstrate that wolves constitute a minor threat to the livestock industry. However, there are some things that should be considered in regard to these numbers.
For instance, when comparing wolf depredations to other kills made by other predators, bear in mind that there aren’t nearly as many wolves as there are coyotes or dogs or mountain lions. Were there more wolves, there most certainly would be more depredations attributable to them. On the other hand, wolves will never reach the population numbers of those other predators. Additionally, when you see that wolves kill one cow out of nine million in Montana, remember that cows live throughout the entire state (there are more cattle in Montana than people-almost 3 per person), and wolves only inhabit a minute portion of it. On the other hand, wolves never will inhabit nearly as much of Montana as cattle do.
One other thing to keep in mind: While wolves aren’t going to bring the livestock industry to its knees, they can pose a financial, as well as a psychological, hardship to individuals that raise livestock. Wolves aren’t equal opportunity depredators-they don’t spread losses out evenly among ranchers. Once wolves takes down a cow or sheep, it seems that they often become repeat offenders and go on to lead other members of the pack to the dark side creating a significant problem for a rancher whose land is in that pack’s territory.
As to what should be done once wolves start killing livestock, there’s not a single solution; each incident needs to be dealt with on an individual basis. Sometimes the wolves will have to be killed or moved. Sometimes the cattle or sheep could be moved. Other times, we could act pro-actively and buy out grazing allotments in specific areas where it’s obvious there will be conflicts with livestock and wolves.
The main point here, however, is the next time you see another wolf depredation in the headlines, consider this: if Koani and Indy each killed a cow, who do you think would end up in the headlines?
In terms of sheep mortalities caused by predators, wolves are responsible for killing:
- Idaho: 1 out of 215 or .46%
- Wyoming: 1 out of 1,412 or .07%
- Montana: 1 out 378 or .26%
When compared with total sheep mortality, wolves are responsible for:
- Idaho: 1 out of 778 or .1%
- Wyoming: 1 out of 2,558 or .04%
- Montana: 1 out of 1,698 or .06%
In terms of each state’s entire population of sheep, wolves kill:
- Idaho: 1 out of 27,500 or .0004%
- Wyoming: 1 out of 28,500 or .007%
- Montana: 1 out of 37,000 or .003%
In terms of cattle mortalities caused by predators, wolves are responsible for killing:
- Idaho: 1 out of 260 or .4%
- Wyoming: 1 out of 195 or .5%
- Montana: 1 out 380 or .3%
When compared with total cattle mortality, wolves are responsible for:
- Idaho: Unavailable
- Wyoming: 1 out of 2,400 or .04%
- Montana: Unavailable
In terms of each state’s entire population of cattle, wolves kill:
- Idaho: 1 out of 195,000 or .0005%
- Wyoming: 1 out of 79,000 or .0001%
- Montana: 1 out of 260,000 or .0004%