Livestock Depredation May worsen with Wolf Hunting and Trapping

Minnesota Livestock and Wolves

Many Minnesota farms situated in wolf habitat in the northeastern portion of MN have used non-lethal means for keeping their livestock safe and simultaneously avoiding wolf kills. Despite the best practices methods that can be used to avoid wolf depredation on livestock, about 200 wolves are killed for livestock predation every year: 203 in 2011, 192 in 2010 and 199 in 2009.

As unfortunate as losing livestock or even a pet dog to a wolf  is, it is important that  people know the actual  numbers of livestock verified as killed by wolves.  Wolves have a distinct, telltale method of killing.  Farmers are compensated full market value for verified livestock kills.  But when the animals are lost, farmers have not been compensated.  The following data was reported by the DNR in a briefing in Jan 2012 and by John Hart of the US Department of Agriculture.

Statewide MN has 15,000 beef producers in 2007 with a total of 400,000 cows.

There are 5,400 beef producers in the wolf's range with a total of 165,000 cows.

1.7% of producers in the wolf's range experience wolf problems yearly.

In 2011:

88  livestock verified killed by wolves, 9 dogs, 203 wolves killed

In 2010:

106 Livestock/ poultry killed, 192 wolves killed

Of the 104 livestock claims $106,000 was paid out. This was the highest year on record which may have been related to the very harsh winter.

In 2009:

85 verified livestock kills, 199 wolves killed

At the roundtable discussion in 1998 for the MN Wolf Management plan passed in 2000, it was agreed that hundreds of wolves are killed every year and are not reported either by poachers for fur or by livestock owners feeling unsupported in their wolf livestock issues.

Non-lethal methods of controlling wolf livestock depredation can be longer-lasting and more effective than lethal means when it is successful.  Of course, there will be occasions when wolves that prey on livestock must be killed. 

Random hunting of wolves has the potential for making livestock predation by wolves worse.  Historically, the US has driven predator populations out of farm areas and limited information and experience exists on how to have predators co-exist in states with livestock farms.  Limited information on wolves indicates that when packs are disrupted by random hunts, the weakened pack with no or fewer adults to hunt while simultaneously caring for young pups may go for the easier but higher risk food from farmer's livestock.  This would be in circumstances where the livestock is close by and the adult wolf cannot go far away from the pups.  Small pack sizes (MN's average pack size is 4.9 wolves) mean that when one wolf is killed or injured by a hunt, then the rest of the members who may not be the prime hunters, may change their mode of acquiring food or even die as a secondary result of one member being hunted.  Younger average ages of wolf packs and lesser numbers per packs may be a direct result of the stress on the pack by lethal management.  Farmers are now able to kill wolves on their property who pose an immediate threat to their livestock or pets in the Northern portion of the state which is wolf habitat and in the Southern Zone, no immediate threat is necessary to kill wolves on farmers property that pose a threat to their property.

The problem with a wolf hunt immediately following delisting from the Endangered Species List in MN is that we have no experience with both allowing farmers the right to kill wolves on their property and a simultaneous random hunt.  Combining this new situation with hunting and trapping wolves could dramatically increase stress on wolf packs and thus problems for farmers.  Wolves could die in much higher numbers than the numbers set by a hunt quota. The wolves will be killed by the hunt, by the loss of a pack mate or parent that helped with acquiring food and by more farmer interactions due to more attempts at their livestock.  This is why a five year wait is necessary before a hunt is even proposed.  

Download the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Wolf Briefing (PDF)