Growing predator population concerns farmers, rural citizens

Laurie Groskopf
In Wisconsin, cattle deaths by predator are heavily influenced by the presence of wolves.

While predator caused deaths to cattle and calves are not a major proportion of overall cattle deaths, any producer who has experienced a predator caused death finds it traumatic. In the U.S., for cattle, predator deaths account for 2.4% of total deaths, and for calves, 11.1% of deaths are caused by predators.

This information comes from a cooperative efforts between the National Agriculture Statistics Service and the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS). The information was gathered in early 2016, and published by APHIS as part of the National Animal Health Monitoring System in Dec. 2017. The entire report is available online titled "Death loss in U.S. cattle and calves due to predator and nonpredator causes, 2015".

Nationwide, the percentage of predator deaths to calves increased steadily from 3.5% in 1995 to 11.1% in 2015. For beef cattle operations, calf deaths due to predators comprise 16% of total deaths. Coyotes cause more deaths than any other predator in the U.S., 40.5% of predator cattle deaths and 53.1% of predator calf deaths.

A coyote has a successful squirrel hunt. Predators such as coyotes and feral hogs are significantly reducing deer and turkey populations.

In Wisconsin, cattle deaths by predator are heavily influenced by the presence of wolves. Cattle deaths by predators were 25.4% by wolves, and 23.4% by coyotes. Wolves cause 28.9% of predator deaths to calves, and coyotes cause 37.6% to calves in Wisconsin. Wolves also impact cattle and calf deaths in other states with wolf presence: Minnesota, Michigan, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico, Oregon, Washington and Wyoming.

One result of predator presence that is not appreciated by the general public is damage caused by predator harassment. The most recent wolf incident listed on the DNR world depredation report in Douglas County involved wolf harassment. This report can be accessed through a "wolf" search on the WI DNR home page, and clicking on depredation reports.

Another new method to access information is the livestock depredation instant alert. Scroll to the bottom of the DNR home page, click on the red envelope and follow the instructions. The instant livestock depredation report gives timely information a bout recent harassments and depredations by wolves, bears and coyotes.

Some producers attempt to reduce damage by predators through non-lethal means. From 2000 to 2015, nationwide, the percent of operations using non-lethal methods to control predators increased 6-fold, from 3.1% in 2000, to 19.1% in 2015. These operations spent an average of $3,000 each for non-lethal controls.

To some people in the general public, the relatively small number of operations impacted by predator deaths seem trivial. But to a cattle/calf farmer, these events can permanently change how the farm is perceived. Loss of pasture use, maintenance of electric fladry fencing, constant checking on livestock and fears for their well-being that interfere with sleep and serenity. These are just a few of the impacts of having predators on the landscape. In some locations, smaller animals or young animals are just not able to be pastured safely.

Wisconsin's growing variety and number of predators are a great concern to many farmers and rural citizens. Thanks to Wisconsin's farm advocates, wildlife supporters, pet owners, county boards and others, who are actively working towards reasonable predator management policies.

Laurie Groskopf

Tomahawk, WI