Grizzlies have killed a record number of livestock so far this year, and still they are not Montana’s top predator. Can you guess what is?
Last year (2015) grizzly bears killed 90 head of livestock in Montana. As of May 31st of this year, grizzlies have already killed 94 head of Montana livestock. We’re only halfway through the year and they’ve already beaten last year’s entire total. That doesn’t include 40 sheep just killed near Valier over Memorial weekend, two alpacas and two calves.
And yet grizzlies aren’t the top predator in the state. In fact, the bear numbers of livestock killed aren’t even close to the numbers taken by Montana’s top predator: the coyote.
Coyotes accounted for 80 percent of all predator caused sheep losses in 2015. And those losses tallied up to 17,700 sheep and lamb lost last year, according to Montana National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) figures. Coyotes assumed $2.28-million of the estimated $3.21-million in livestock losses.
Ranchers are compensated 100 percent for verified grizzly and wolf death losses from the Montana Livestock Loss Board, which gets $200,000 each year in state funds to pay for loss claims that have been verified by Wildlife Services. Last year just over $190,000 was paid out by the board. There is, however, no compensation for death losses resulting from coyotes.
The funding is also unlikely to increase.
Montana Wildlife Services state director John Steuber indicated that, “Coyotes are still the primary predator in the state. And a lot of that can be attributed to their range and numbers are certainly higher. Wolf range is still limited, primarily in the western half of the state, as is grizzly bear range, although both are spreading.”
According to Wildlife Services reports, coyotes were responsible for the deaths of 240 adult sheep and 1471 lambs in 2015, whereas NASS reported approximately 14,000 sheep and lamb deaths in 2015. So there is some discrepancy between the claims received by the two agencies. Many deaths by coyotes go unreported to Wildlife Services said Steuber.
By contrast, in 2015 the Livestock Loss Board reported 112 cattle and 54 sheep were killed by grizzlies and wolves.
Wildlife Services received twice as many requests for investigations into potential grizzly bear livestock kills between 2014 and 2015. Steuber anticipates that anticipates 2016 requests for investigations will increase even more.
The issue of funding and available resources to deal with the various livestock predators could become a significant issue as the year continues. “We have an annual federal appropriations, and it’s limited and it’s set, so we don’t get more funding depending on how much predation there is” Steuber said. “The more wolf and grizzly predation there is, the more resources we put towards that, and there may be less resources available for other types of predation in any given year.”
It looks as though the well may run dry as far as compensation for livestock losses to ranchers goes, while an increase in livestock deaths from grizzlies, wolves and coyotes are all on the increase.
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