April 12, 2011
The Billings Gazette
Wildlife officials see increase in predacious animal calls
By Martin Kidston
CODY, Wyo. - From the streets of Powell to the large ranches butting up against the Absaroka Front, the two employees of the Park County Predator Management District have been busy this past year.
Hundreds of landowners have dialed the district for help, looking to chase skunks from the garage or to resolve conflicts with foraging grizzly bears.
Jim Pehringer, head of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Wildlife Services office in northwestern Wyoming, which oversees the Park County district, said about 1,000 calls came into the office in the past 12 months.
The workload has reached the point that officials are looking to fund a third employee to keep pace with demand.
"We get calls on just about everything you can imagine," Pehringer said. "We're working more in the urban areas now, where it takes specialized equipment and a lot of time to get the job done."
Since last April, Pehringer said, calls to the Predator Management District have included venomous snakes, squirrels in trees and even a northern flicker stuck in a house.
Employees also responded to at least four calls involving raccoons eating sweet corn, a blue heron eating fish from a private pond and two calls - no kidding - for foxes in the henhouse.
Pehringer said area residents need to assume some responsibility for damage resulting from wildlife. He called it the benefit of living in a rural area bordering the greater Yellowstone ecosystem.
But, if the problems persist and the landowner has taken action to mitigate the conflict, he said, the district will work to resolve the issue, based on priorities and the employees' workload.
"We've been conducting wildlife projects to deal with crop damage and small predators, mainly raccoons," Pehringer said. "It's really become a big mountain of work for a lot of our guys."
The group works on issues pertaining to "predacious" animals that don't fall under the management of state and federal wildlife officials, such as coyotes, raccoons, porcupines and crows, among other species.
But Mark Bruscino of Wyoming Game and Fish said the district and its employees can also work at the state's direction on resolving conflicts with black bears and grizzly bears, as well as mountain lions.
"If we had a grizzly that was killing cattle and we wanted Wildlife Services to help us with that situation, they would do what we asked them to do," he said.
The Predator Management District can also help arrange payment for losses from wolves at the state's discretion. However, Bruscino added, the district doesn't have any control over decisions on wolves that cause damage.
According to the National Agriculture Statistics Service, Park County is home to roughly 52,000 cattle and 8,000 sheep. Resolving conflicts between livestock and native wildlife keeps the district busy.
Over the past 12 months, Pehringer said, at least five calls involved conflicts between adult cattle and grizzly bears, and more than 11 calls involved adult cattle and wolves.
The group also responded to various calf-related calls, including a minimum of 14 that involved grizzlies, eight involving coyotes and 35 involving wolves.
Pehringer said the district is testing a third position to help keep up with the workload, though future funding could be an issue.
"We'll see if this is something we can keep funded because of the increase we've seen in requests," he said. "Our workload seems to increase every year."
Contact Martin Kidston at email@example.com or 307-527-7250.