Wolves wreak havoc on ranches

Grant Huffman says wolves are a huge issue in the region and losses are getting to the level that warrant a solution.

Grant Huffman of the Cariboo Cattlemen’s Association says wolves are a huge issue in the region and losses are getting to the level that warrant a solution.

The fact that the province’s conservation office returned to handling predator control in April 2011, after being absent from the program about eight years, is making a difference, Huffman says, adding “hopefully we’re gaining ground.”

During the period when the government backed away from predator control, it was handled privately by the B.C. Cattlemen’s Association, which operated under a special permit from the Ministry of Environment.

The BCCA hired private mitigators who operated under strict guidelines, Huffman explains.

Cariboo Cattlemen’s Association president Duncan Barnett and Huffman think one of the reasons the government got back into predator control was due to public pressure that it be controlled by a government agency rather than a non-government agency.

“Some questioned how you could have industry in charge of the program to deal with the predators that are causing them the problems,” Barnett says.

Besides, says David Zirnhelt, a CCA director and chair of the association’s marketing committee, governments are the stewards of wildlife and have a role to play.

Since coming back into predator control, the conservation office had identified the issue as its number two concern after human safety, says Sgt. Len Butler of the Cariboo Conservation Office in Williams Lake.

“We always did bears, cougars, etc., but getting back into wolf control has increased our complaints and a lot of producers are calling us on a regular basis,” Butler confirms.

Butler suggests the learning curve for the COs in the zone, which covers Quesnel down to 100 Mile House, has gone way up in terms of success in catching wolves.

“We verify first what the predator is, and then we do mitigation from there, either by setting traps or continuously working on the husbandry end of ranching and farming to ensure that there are less losses.”

Aside from the efforts of the COs, ranchers themselves are asking for “all the tools in the tool box” to deal with the problem, Barnett says.

One of those tools is the ability to hire a qualified, approved contractor to come in if a rancher has a big problem.

Additionally, the CCA encourages ranchers to become qualified to trap problem predators on their private land. By taking a three-day course that not only gives the rancher a licence to trap but offers a background in the behaviour of the predator, ranchers are better equipped to describe to the CO service what’s happening.

So far about 30 to 50 people have taken the training, but the training isn’t feasible for everyone. For example, Barnett describes some elderly neighbours who have a ranch and were caring for their granddaughter’s steer.

“They were literally keeping it right by the house and it was killed by wolves.”

Barnett insists that couple isn’t going to go out and get their trapping licence and start trapping wolves. They don’t really have the financial resources to hire a contractor to come in and deal with a wolf population.

“The size of their operation just doesn’t justify it,” Barnett explains, adding they are the perfect candidates to call up the COs.

On the other hand, if there’s a ranch where the COs won’t be able to get to in a day, then that rancher might be better off to hire a private contractor because they cannot afford to wait.

“Or have the ability to handle it himself by having the trapping licence,” Huffman says.

Besides, Zirnhelt says, there are not that many licenced trappers operating under permits.

“It is a specialized task to do it effectively.”

Verifying what’s killing the cattle is also crucial, and something ranchers are also training for.

“It gives you the skill, if you find enough remains, to skin it and look at teeth marks and bruising, and hopefully come up with a pretty good indication of what predator killed it,” Barnett says of the training, adding that cougars, bears and wolves all have different ways of attacking.

Verification is also mandatory for anyone who wants to apply for the provincial compensation program, where ranchers can receive up to 80 per cent of the market value of the livestock.

“You don’t get compensated unless you can prove what killed your livestock,” explains Huffman.

There are always challenges maintaining the provincial funding, and compensation isn’t the only answer, but if people have lost 20 to 60 animals, it’s got to be there, Barnett says, adding that it is very difficult to prove that wolves have been the predator and in fact ranchers are presently getting compensated at a level of five to 10 per cent if they’re lucky.

Zirnhelt suggests there needs to be another way to assess it through tracks, and age of the cattle, and the odd kill and how inordinate the losses are for that year.

“It’s very complex to do that, but one of my neighbours was up to 26 head that didn’t come home out of a herd of 160. That’s huge and on the verge of challenging his ability to stay in business,” Zirnhelt says.

Barnett and Huffman have been members of the Cariboo Regional Advisory Committee, a group of stakeholders established in 2009 to look at wildlife and agriculture issues.

“We as an association of cattlemen and ranchers wanted to do some proactive measures to control problem wildlife. When we started out it was the deer populations that were really high and were really hitting people’s alfalfa fields and spring grass hard,” Barnett recalls.

The group developed a plan over the three years, only to realize the problem had shifted.

Deer populations were going down and the wolf population was the problem.

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