October 10, 2008
October 10, 2008 - The payout is rising for Montana in its new role of compensating for livestock losses to wolves, with some uncertainty about where this year's tally will stop.
"We had no way to gauge this, being in operation for just a year," said George Edwards, the Montana Department of Agriculture's livestock loss mitigation coordinator.
Compensation programs for wolves and grizzly bears had been run for years by Defenders of Wildlife, a conservation group. But the state assumed that role this year under a Montana Wolf Management Plan and authorization from the legislature.
The 2007 legislature provided $30,000 in one-time funding and Defenders put up $100,000 to fund the program for this year and next year. Last week, the Greater Yellowstone Coalition contributed another $1,000, Edwards said.
It is difficult to judge this year's potential payout based on past compensation provided by Defenders, because the state program is entirely neutral on wolf recovery while the conservation group acted as a wolf advocate, Edwards said. Some livestock owners with losses would not submit claims to Defenders because they considered it a promotion of the group's agenda, although other livestock owners were pleased with the group's efforts.
So far this year, Edwards has received 43 claims on wolf depredation incidents involving 157 animals, including 120 sheep, 31 cattle, four llamas, a horse and a dog. In some cases, the same livestock owner lost animals in separate attacks. One Beaverhead County rancher, for instance, lost 36 rams and 30 lambs in separate incidents. Edwards has paid out $22,000 so far.
"But that isn't counting paying for large sheep claims," he said, noting that those claims are being taken directly to the Montana Livestock Loss Reduction and Mitigation Board at a meeting in Helena on Oct. 24.
"Those are going to be some really high dollar amounts," Edwards predicted.
Assessing the value of livestock can get tricky, and that's why claim values on sheep will be reviewed by the board, which has members with backgrounds in raising sheep.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Wildlife Services (WS) division investigates depredation incidents, confirming whether wolves were responsible. Investigative findings are forwarded to livestock owners, who then can submit those reports with their compensation requests.
Edwards said WS officials told him to anticipate an uptick in depredation incidents in September and October, leading him to believe there could be more claims to come over the next couple of months.
"There's a good chance that all of those funds will be spent by the end of the year," he said, referring to the $80,000 available for compensation this year. Reprinted in part from The Daily Inter Lake, Kalispell, Mont.