August 18, 2006
August 18, 2006 - Consequences of the federal wolf reintroduction program in the Northern Rockies may be visible on the dinner table, in the form of skimpier lamb chops and porterhouse steaks.
For years, wool growers and cattle ranchers have fretted over wolves that kill dozens of sheep and cows each year. But the steepest price may be the declining weight of livestock terrified by the howls and footsteps of the stalking predators.
Currently, lambs fetch an average of $1 per pound on the market. So, if wolves cause just a few lost pounds on each lamb that quickly mounts into big losses.
Stan Boyd, executive director of the Idaho Wool Growers Association, said most of his members are reporting lamb weights between two lbs. and eight lbs. below the prior three-year average.
"Nerves are to blame. They're just being dogged out there," said Boyd. "There's safety in numbers. A band of lambs will crowd together and just quit eating."
"The loss of weight from a whole herd of cattle could cost far more than the depredation of a few calves. It's something we've been afraid of since the reintroduction program began," stated Lloyd Knight, executive director of the Idaho Cattle Association.
Federal wildlife officials reintroduced endangered gray wolves into Yellowstone National Park and the central Idaho mountains in 1995 and the predators have thrived. A decade later, ranchers say, wolf packs are roaming further, their presence wreaking as much havoc as their bite.
The Idaho Office of Species Conservation, an agency that compensates ranchers for wolf-related losses through an annual $100,000 appropriation from Congress, has agreed to pay any rancher who can demonstrate weight loss through record-keeping.
"I've heard the theory before and it makes sense," said Jeff Allen, the office's policy adviser. "It's something we have agreed to fund."
Although accounts remain anecdotal, nobody is more qualified to assess the physiology of their animals than the ranchers, said Todd Grimm, the acting director of the Idaho branch of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Wildlife Services Division, which traps and shoots wolves known to prey on livestock.
"Most of these guys have had grazing allotments for so long, they have a real long history of what calves and lambs should weigh when they come off the mountain," he said. "And, they've got a lot of facts and figures to go along with that."
According to Paul Rodgers, deputy director of policy for the American Sheep Industry, "Depredation and the threat of it is the major animal-welfare concern for sheep on range."
Reprinted in part from Associated Press