Wolves and cattle – can they co-exist?

Last week I wrote about the seminar at Thompson Rivers University’s Sustainable Ranching program featuring two ranchers from Alberta and two local ranchers commenting on their presentations about co-existing with wolves and other predators.

For their part the two local ranchers who responded to the panelists made great points that the nature (extensiveness) of the open range here can be a problem.

Also, since the industry is not so profitable, the owners often work at other jobs and can’t afford to have employees who can stay with the herd on the range. One rancher said he camps out with the cattle if the wolves are around.

Early in the morning the birds (ravens and eagles) can show you where a kill is.

Before compensation can be paid out, the kill must be verified as having been made by a predator.

Wolves are geared to attacking animals which will run. Calm cattle can put fear into wolves.

There was concensus among the guest speakers: The serious decline in the moose population destabilizes predator (natural) prey balance. So we are left with a big problem until a new balance is found.

As I said earlier, there is much to this question and we don’t have an extensive scientific basis to our management of the problem.

Perhaps the livestock industry, conservation interests and First Nations in the area could sponsor research which will shed light on the problem and point to some solutions which work here.

Cattlemen have been calling for more wildlife research to help us deal with the issues above. It was good to hear from ranchers who have found a way to co-exist with wolves, grizzlies and cougars.

The losses to ranching are not just the animals that are killed or maimed. Calves may not grow as fast if the herd is under predation. To gain weight cattle must need to fill up and then rest and digest their food.

If mother cows are harassed, they may not come home bred and in calf. These are additional costs.

A normally well-managed range may be overgrazed closer to home as predator pressure drives the cows close to people.

They eat there when they might otherwise be distributed elsewhere where grazing is fresher.

A researcher from Bozemen, Montana, Matt Barnes, in a 2015 paper entitled Livestock Management for Coexistence with large Carnivores, Healthy land and Productive Ranches has suggested cattlemen mimic the anti-predator behavior of wild grazing animals.

“The central anti-predator behavior of wild grazing animals is to form large, dense herds that then move around the landscape to seek fresh forage, avoid fouled areas and escape predators. They also have their young in short synchronized birthing seasons (predator satiation),” Barnes said.

A good resource for B.C. is the Wild Predator Loss Prevention Best Management Practices for Cattle which can be found on the BC Cattlemen’s Association website.

David Zirnhelt is a member of the Cariboo Cattlemen’s Association and chair of the advisory committee for the Applied Sustainable Ranching program which started at Thompson Rivers University in Williams Lake in January of 2016.