Livestock At Center Of Wolf Conflicts

cattle grazing...wikimedia commons

Groundhog day rules in the West.  The same story is played out over and over, with the same result.  Cattle killed, wolves die, sheep killed. wolves die.

April 21, 2009

“Federal agents are searching for a pair of wolves responsible for the first documented livestock killing in the Laramie Mountains by the predator in more than 60 years”



In the first week of December, U.S. government agencies carried out one of the largest wolf pack removals ever conducted in Northwest Montana. Over the course of three days, USDA Wildlife Services shot and removed 19 wolves from the Hog Heaven Pack in the Brown’s Meadow and Niarada areas, southwest of Kalispell. The wolves had been killing livestock for over a year, with the most recent killing involving a 2-year-old bull.


December 14, 2008

Through early December, 245 wolves were legally killed by wildlife agents and ranchers – a 31 percent spike over last year’s figure, according to state and federal records.

That included 102 wolves in Montana, 101 in Idaho and 42 in Wyoming. Another nine wolves were shot in a specially designated “predator zone” in Wyoming that has since been struck down by a federal judge.


 “The governments own figures again show that mammalian carnivores kill very few livestock (0.18%)  Of the 104.5 million cattle that were produced in 2005, 190,000 (or 0.18%) died as the result of predation from coyotes, domestic dogs, and other carnivores (USDA, 2006). In comparison, livestock producers lost 3.9 million head of cattle (3.69%) to all sorts of maladies, weather, or theft, respiratory problems, digestive problems, calving, unknown, other, disease, lameness, metabolic problems, poison (USDA, 2006)

Wolves pay dearly for conflicts between “walking picnic baskets” as George Wuerthner, on likes to call cattle, usually being shot and killed, either by Wildlife Services or the SSS crowd. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to conclude that wolves are punished for being predators and doing what predators do.  They’re considered a nuisance and threat to the livestock industry, resulting in federal and state policies that revolve around removing as many of them as possible.  It’s not just wolves either.  Coyotes suffer, so do mountain lions and red foxes.  In 2005 Wildlife Services, the extermination arm of the Department of Agriculture, killed over 70,000 coyotes, 2172 red foxes, 330 mountain lions and 252 wolves.  Is this acceptable?  Is anyone disturbed by these figures?

A recent study discussed the collapse of ecosystems around the world due to the loss of apex predators.  When is wildlife “management” going to consider what’s best for biodiversity instead of waging a war on wolves and other predators in the name of livestock protection?

Every business has risk/management issues, including ranching but it’s not the private sector’s responsiblity to solve them. Even so, ranchers are reimbursed for livestock kills by the feds and Defenders of Wildlife.

For the 52 beleaguered Mexican gray wolves in New Mexico and Arizona, trying to exist in a sea of cattle, a fund has been established to reimburse ranchers if these wolves happen to prey on or trip over a cow.  Not very difficult considering their circumstances.

New trust fund will give Southwest ranchers help to alleviate impact from endangered wolves






“The Middle Fork wolves live in the heavily-grazed Beaverhead area of the Gila National Forest, where over the past several years five other wolf packs previously lived until they were trapped out and shot by the federal government in response to pressure from the livestock industry.

 “Lackadaisical Forest Service management, severe grazing during drought, trespass stock, and scattered carcasses of cattle that died of non-wolf causes which draw wolves in to scavenge, all guarantee continued conflicts between wolves and livestock,” pointed out Robinson.

The Beaverhead area has a history of wolves scavenging on carcasses of cattle that they had not killed, and then subsequently beginning to hunt live cattle. This spring, the Center for Biological Diversity documented sixteen dead cattle, none of them with any signs of wolf predation, within a few miles of the Middle Fork’s den site.

Independent scientists have repeatedly recommended that owners of livestock using the public lands be required to remove or render unpalatable (as by lime, for example) the carcasses of cattle and horses that die of non-wolf causes — such as starvation, disease or poisonous weeds — before wolves scavenge on them and then switch from preying on elk to livestock. No such requirements have been implemented.

“Preventing conflicts with livestock on the national forests makes more sense than scapegoating endangered wolves once conflicts begin,” said Robinson.

Overall, elk, deer and other native hoofed mammals comprise 88.6% of the Mexican wolves’ diets, and cattle just 4.2% – according to a peer-reviewed 2006 study based on analysis of the wolves’ scat.”

What’s the solution to this never ending conflict?  For starters the government should rein in grazing permits on public lands and send the cows and sheep packing. Wolf-livestock disputes would drop dramatically if that were to happen.

The status quo is unacceptable.  If we’re really serious about recovering the gray wolf, we must tackle the issue of livestock dominance on western lands. 


How Livestock Production Negatively Affects Predators In The West

By George Wuerthner

cattle grazing


Citizens concerned about the restoration of predators throughout the West often fail to fully comprehend the multiple ways livestock production (as opposed to grazing) threatens predators in much of the arid West.

Livestock production is a problem simply due to its ubiquitous nature. Livestock production utilizes the vast majority of the West’s landscape, including a majority of all public lands. Cows graze 90% of the BLM lands, 69% of the Forest Service lands, and even a significant proportion of the national wildlife refuges as well as national parks such as Grand Teton, Great Basin, Mojave and others. Not surprisingly, livestock production is easily the single greatest factor affecting many different species, including many formerly wide ranging species like wolves, grizzly bears, mountain lion, swift fox, and others.

Predator Control

One obvious affect of livestock production upon predators is predator control. The direct killing of predators to protect domestic livestock significantly reduces, or has even led to the extinction of many predator species around the West including the wolf, grizzly and jaguar. And continual predator control threatens recovery of these species where the loss of even a few individual animals can slow or thwart recovery efforts. By keeping remaining populations small and fragmented through continued predator control, the livestock industry is contributing to additional local extinctions.

Disruption of Social Interactions

Predator control also impacts species by disrupting social behavior. Most larger predators are social animals, and the removal of key individuals can upset social hierarchies and affect individual survival. For example, loss of a dominant pack member in a wolf group may make the entire pack vulnerable to territory loss or even death from other wolves. Loss of a dominant animal like a dominant grizzly or jaguar may permit subdominants to move into a vacant territory. Due to their inexperience, such territories then become a mortality sink since young animals attracted to the area may be more likely to kill domestic animals, and thus be killed by ranchers or their government agents. Plus their lack of experience in hunting and lack of territory knowledge also leads to greater predator-livestock conflicts, since young inexperienced hunters are more likely to kill livestock, prompting even more and indiscriminate predator control.

Impacts on intra-species interactions

Predator control can also affect Intra-species conflicts. For instance, the extinction of wolves across much of the West has led to an increase in coyotes. Coyotes often kill the smaller swift fox, a common grasslands species. The high density of coyotes in some areas has caused the failure of some swift fox reintroduction efforts.

Non-target species losses

Killing of non-target species is another effect of predator control. For instance, the near extinction of the swift fox on the Great Plains is partially blamed on the indiscriminate use of poison and trapping to kill coyotes.

Extirpation of prey species

The effects of the livestock industry on the prey of predators is a less obvious, but no less important impact of livestock production. It is well documented that the decline in black-tailed prairie dogs, often killed as “pests” by the livestock industry, has led to the near-extinction of the black-footed ferret.

Loss of prairie dogs also affects avian predators as well. The decline in burrowing owls, ferruginous hawks, and other raptors is attributed to loss of prairie dogs and ground squirrels killed by the livestock industry.

Forage competition

Livestock producers don’t even have to kill anything directly to still significantly impact predators. Even “predator friendly” livestock operations are having a significant negative effect upon predator by reducing the prey base available to predators. Domestic livestock often eat the same food species as many wild ungulates, and depending on the species and range condition, diet overlap can be quite significant. On most public lands, and certainly on almost all-private lands, far more of the above ground biomass (AUMS) is being consumed by domestic livestock than wild herbivores. Even in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, often called the Serengeti of the United States, domestic livestock consume more than 10 times the AUMS as all the native ungulates combined-bison, elk, antelope, mule deer, moose, bighorn sheep, and whitetail deer. In most parts of the West the disparity between forage allotment to domestic animals and wild herbivores is even greater. In essence, the mere presence of domestic livestock is taking food directly out of the mouth of predators.

Forage competition isn’t limited to large predators. For instance, consumption of above ground biomass removes the food that would otherwise sustain grasshoppers, voles, and other smaller animals consumed by birds of prey. While I know of no qualification of this effect, it certainly can be seen in some areas.

Riparian habitat loss

Damage and decline in riparian areas is another impact upon some predators. Grizzlies, for instance, depend upon riparian areas for grass and sedges they consume in the spring when other foods are scarce. Livestock damage to riparian areas has been shown to be a direct conflict with grizzlies in Montana. And in the Southwest, early reports of grizzlies showed a strong association with riparian areas. Any opportunities for grizzly recover in the Southwest are thus thwarted by the on-going loss of riparian areas due to livestock production. These riparian areas are also critical travel corridors, providing cover as well as food.

Impacts on fisheries

Livestock production has also significantly impacted fisheries around the West, hence fish-eating predators including mink, otter, osprey, bald eagle, kingfisher, and others. There are three ways livestock production has impacted fisheries-hence fish dependent predators. Irrigation has led to dewatering of many streams around the West, plus in some areas a large percentage of the annual recruitment of some fish species dies in irrigation canals. Water storage reservoirs fragment stream systems and can led to water quality changes that negatively affects fish and fish dependent predators. Finally, destruction of riparian areas by trampling and consumption of stream-side forage also impacts fisheries, hence fish dependent predators.

Social intolerance

Sometimes there are indirect effects upon predators from social intolerance. For example, the current practice of slaughtering bison that leave Yellowstone National Park is a direct threat to the survival of the grizzly bear. Studies have shown that grizzlies consume a disproportionate amount of bison carrion in Yellowstone, and this carrion is essential to their overall survival in the ecosystem. There is plenty of unoccupied public land in Montana and Wyoming within grizzly recovery zones that could support wild bison if state livestock agencies weren’t stopping all recolonization by shooting animals that wander from adjacent parks.

Political influence

Finally, the disproportionate power of the livestock industry to influence public lands management decisions also negatively affects predators. For example, there are numerous parts of the West that  biologically could support wolves, grizzlies, black-footed ferrets, and >other predators, but which are vacant due to intense opposition to reintroductions from the livestock industry. By keeping the remaining  populations of predators fragmented, and small, they are directly contributing to further extinctions of many species. The recent decision by the FWS to remove a dispersing wolf from Oregon, for no good biological reason, was yet another example of how the political influence of this industry negatively affects predator populations.

Photos: Wikimedia Commons

Categories posted in: Public Land Degradation by Livestock, wolf intolerance

Tags: gray wolf, wolves or livestock

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