Wolf depredation facts, tips for Montana ranchers

News
Apr 7, 2011

With all the back and forth on the endangered status of wolves, it’s no wonder that some ranchers may be scratching their heads over what steps they need to take if they suffer depredation from wolves. In Montana, the situation isn’t made any easier by the fact that there are two separate recognized wolf populations—one endangered and one "experimental/non-essential"—which are managed under different regulations. So perhaps it is no surprise that several weeks ago when Ovando-area rancher and Montana Stock Growers Association member Wayne Slaght held a local meeting to educate ranchers about how depredation should be handled, over 80 Montana ranchers showed up to get the facts.

In the interest of putting more Montana ranchers in the know, here is a brief review of the basic facts concerning how to handle wolf depredation in Montana.

Who are all those agencies?

Federal and state governments are notorious for their "alphabet soup" of agencies, and several of them play a part in managing Montana’s wolves. Here is a quick who’s who of the agencies you need to be familiar with.

USDA Wildlife Services:

This is the federal agency that is dedicated to the protection of agriculture through controlling wildlife that interferes with ranching and farming. They trap and kill animals like coyotes, beaver, bear, cougar and, yes, wolves. Wildlife Services is the agency you need to call when you have a suspected wolf depredation. They will come to your ranch and perform an investigation confirming that a wolf killed your livestock. If advised to do so by Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP), USDA Wildlife Services will then remove or kill wolves. USDA Wildlife Services is not a law enforcement agency.

Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks:

Montana FWP manages wildlife in the state of Montana. Through an agreement with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), they are the de facto managers of Montana’s wolves. Once a wolf depredation has been confirmed by USDA Wildlife Services, FWP decides what measures Wildlife Services will take to manage the situation on the ground. Basically, FWP makes the decisions, and Wildlife Services carries them out. FWP game wardens also have law enforcement powers. However, following a recent announcement by Gov. Brian Schweitzer, FWP wardens will no longer be investigating suspected wolf killings. Instead, these investigations will be performed by federal USFWS wardens.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service:

USFWS is the federal agency responsible for overseeing endangered species. Through an agreement with Montana FWP, they have given over day-to-day management of Montana wolves to the state agency. However, USFWS wardens do have law enforcement powers, and can arrest individuals suspected of illegally killing wolves. A person found guilty of killing an endangered species can be fined up to $100,000 and sentenced to up to a year in jail.

What do I do if I suspect wolf depredation?

If you find dead livestock and suspect wolf depredation, immediately protect the evidence. Secure a tarp over the carcass(es), and avoid disturbing the site any more than necessary. Then immediately contact USDA Wildlife Services and tell them that you have a suspected case of wolf depredation. It is essential that you waste no time in calling since the quality of the evidence can rapidly deteriorate. Minutes count. Wildlife Services will come to your ranch and investigate.

USDA Wildlife Services has two offices in Montana: West District at 406/458-0106, and State Office at 406/657-6464. If you do not know which to call, use the State Office number and they will direct you.

If USDA Wildlife Services confirms or suspects wolf depredation, they will contact Montana FWP to get instruction on how to proceed. FWP may instruct Wildlife Services to remove a wolf, or several, if deemed necessary. It is not necessary for the rancher to directly contact FWP for this to happen.

What about compensation?

The Montana Department of Livestock oversees the Livestock Loss Reduction and Mitigation Board (LLRMB). This body reimburses producers for livestock killed by wolves. If USDA Wildlife Services determines that wolves have killed your livestock, you will be sent an LLRMB form along with a report of the investigation. You will need to fill this out and return it to the LLRMB office in order to be compensated for the value of your livestock. For more information on LLRMB and the compensation program, visit their website at http://liv.mt.gov/liv/LL
RMB/index.asp, or contact them at 406/444-5609.

What is the difference between Montana’s northern and southern wolf populations?

Montana has two separately recognized wolf populations, a northern population that is federally endangered, and a southern population which is federally classified as "experimental/non-essential." These two populations are managed according to different laws. The map above indicates where the boundary between the northern and southern wolf populations lies.

The laws pertaining to northern (endangered) and southern (experimental) wolves are different.

Northern wolves

For the endangered northern population, Montana FWP provides the following instruction on its website:

• Citizens are not allowed to harass or kill wolves on private lands or federal lands. Citizens are encouraged to contact Montana FWP and USDA Wildlife Services to learn more about wolves in the area and about proactive ways to discourage wolves from harassing or killing livestock.

• Anyone can kill a wolf in self defense or defense of another person. Report the incident to FWP within 24 hours.

According to Ed Bangs, northern Rocky Mountain wolf coordinator for USFWS, ranchers may harass wolves using non-injurious methods such as noise making to chase off wolves that are threatening or attacking livestock.

Southern wolves

For the southern experimental/non-essential population, Montana FWP gives the following information:

Livestock producers and private landowners

Landowners, their immediate family members, or their employees can kill a wolf that is biting, wounding or killing, or a wolf that is seen actively chasing, molesting or harassing, livestock, livestock herding or guarding animals, or domestic dogs (any breed):

• no permit is required

• report the incident to Montana FWP within 24 hours

• physical evidence of the wolf attack or that an attack was imminent is required (injured or dead livestock, broken fences, trampled vegetation and wolf sign)

Lease holders on private land (for livestock grazing or hunting purposes) could also kill a wolf that is biting, wounding or killing, or a wolf that is actively chasing, molesting or harassing, livestock, livestock herding or guarding animals, or domestic dogs.

Anyone can non-injuriously harass wolves that are too close to livestock, herding or guarding animals, or domestic dogs (all breeds). No permit is required. Report the incident to FWP within seven days.

Private land includes all non-federal lands: fee title, state/county lands, and lands within tribal reservations.

Livestock includes: cattle, sheep, horses, mules, goats, domestic bison, and herding and guarding animals (llamas, donkeys, and certain breeds of dogs commonly used for herding or guarding livestock).

Livestock producers on federal land

Livestock producers or outfitters/guides with an active federal use permit that includes or requires livestock use may kill a wolf that is seen biting, wounding or killing, or a wolf that is seen actively chasing, molesting or harassing, livestock or livestock herding or guarding animals or domestic dogs on their active allotment:

• no permit is required

• report the incident to FWP within 24 hours

• physical evidence of the wolf attack or that an attack was imminent is required (injured or dead livestock, broken fences, trampled vegetation and wolf sign); wolves can not be intentionally baited, fed or deliberately attracted.

Anyone can kill a wolf in self defense or defense of others. Report the incident to FWP within 24 hours.

Private citizens and recreationists on public or private land

Individuals may non-injuriously haze or harass a wolf that is too close or kill a wolf that is actively chasing, molesting, harassing, biting, wounding, or attacking their stock animals or domestic dogs (any breed):

• no permit is required

• report the incident to FWP within 24 hours

• physical evidence of the wolf attack is required (injured or dead stock animals or domestic dogs; disturbed area where the attack occurred) that would lead a reasonable person to conclude the attack was imminent; wolves can not be intentionally baited, fed, or deliberately attracted.

Stock include: horse, mule, donkey, llama, or goat used to transport people or their possessions

Anyone can kill a wolf in self defense or defense of others. Report the incident to FWP within 24 hours.

The above guidance and other information about Montana’s wolves can be found at the Montana FWP website: http://fwp.mt.gov/wildthings/management/wolf/default.html.

The big picture

No matter whether you live in the northern or southern region, if you are a Montana rancher and you suspect livestock depredation by wolves, protect the evidence and immediately call USDA Wildlife Services. They will perform an investigation and determine whether you are eligible for compensation. If so, you will be sent a form from LLRMB, which you need to fill out and return. Montana FWP will instruct Wildlife Services on whether one or more wolves needs to be removed.

If you live in the southern region, the FWP information above explains when you are allowed to kill a wolf to protect your livestock. In the northern region, it is illegal to kill or harass wolves.

Though wolves are currently federally listed, different states have different procedures for reporting and handling wolf depredation of livestock. The above information pertains specifically to Montana. If you ranch in Oregon, Idaho, Wyoming or Washington, or any other state that has wolves, contact your state wildlife agency to find specific information. — Andy Rieber, WLJ Correspondent

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