Friday, February 3rd, 2023
Friday, February 3rd, 2023

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Michigan: Wolf killings of livestock in U.P. spike

Marquette, Mich. – Rouge wolf packs are killing more domestic
animals from Upper Peninsula farms than ever before, prompting
increased reimbursements to U.P. farmers through a state
indemnification program.

The payouts, however, only cover livestock killed in confirmed
events, and the process can leave those involved frustrated over
federal protections that limit the ability to curb repeated
attacks, officials said.

Brian Roell, DNRE biologist, said a small percentage of
Michigan’s 557 gray wolves have participated in about 45 attacks
and killed at least 65 animals on farms across the Upper Peninsula
so far this year.

“When any depredation occurs, (DNRE) wildlife staff is sent to
the farm … to determine what species is the culprit,” Roell told
Michigan Outdoor News. “This year is the worst on record in recent
times.

“We do see a correlation, and generally as wolf populations
increase, so does livestock depredation,” Roell said, adding that
three kills are typically reported for every 100 wolves.

The Michigan indemnification program requires DNRE officials to
confirm kills to determine if the animal was the victim of wolves,
cougars, coyotes, bears, or other animals, and report the findings
to the state Department of Agriculture.

State law covers the current market price of livestock killed by
wolves, cougars, and coyotes only. The program doesn’t cover
hunting dogs or other pets.

In 2010 so far, two dogs, seven sheep, 55 cattle, and a Guinea
hen have been killed by wolves in confirmed attacks, Roell said, up
from 16 animals total in 2009.

“This is a relatively small number of wolves that are causing
problems, six to 10 packs on any given year that are causing the
depredations,” Roell said. “But without the ability to control
these animals, you can see what can happen.”

Roell said that killing a dominant member of the pack often
rectifies the problem, but landowners and DNRE officials cannot
kill wayward wolves because the animals are protected under the
federal Endangered Species Act. Federal authorities are considering
removing the animals from federal protections for a third time
after a decision to do so last year was reversed because the U.S.
Fish and Wildlife Service did not solicit public input
beforehand.

Wolves have exceeded population goals in Michigan, Minnesota,
and Wisconsin for years, and a year-long federal review process is
under way, said Russ Mason, Michigan DNRE’s wildlife chief.

“While you can bet they will take every minute of those 12
months … we have been receiving encouraging signs from the
Service that we’re going to get depredation authority” by the end
of the year.

“Now that we have breeding wolves in the northern Lower
(Peninsula), we are about to experience something different because
they are going to thrive,” Mason said.

Indemnification program

To date, the state has paid out $47,262.15 to farmers in the
Upper Peninsula that have lost livestock to wolves, and more
payments are pending. Defenders of Wildlife and private individuals
also have donated another $10,050 for indemnification payments in
the past, Roell said.

The money is paid by the Michigan Department of Agriculture,
which determines the value of the animals based on DNRE reports of
an event, the farmer’s records, and the current market value of the
animal at the time of the incident. The DNRE then repays the MDA
for the program quarterly, according to Kevin Kirk, indemnification
assistant with the MDA.

“The price of the individual animal is based on market activity
… so it’s a revolving target that is moving up and down,” Kirk
said.

Small calves are often repaid at about $200 to $400 an animal,
an adult goat could be worth $200, and full-sized cattle can be
worth around $1,200, but state law caps repayment at $4,000 per
animal, Kirk said.

He said the animal’s age, weight, purpose, and management is
considered in the process. Repeated attacks, lost production from
the animals, and few options to control them, however, are
frustrating farmers as the animals become more brazen, Kirk
said.

“I’ve had farmers tell me they are afraid to walk in the barn in
the morning. The farmers tell me the wolves are not afraid of them
anymore – they’ll come up to their buildings and their house,” he
said.

Ben Bartlett, dairy and livestock educator for MSU Extension in
the Upper Peninsula, believes the depredation figures can be
deceiving, and the problem can quickly grow from a headache to
threatening a farmer’s livelihood.

“When you learn about the depredation rate, it looks small, but
the trouble is it could be 20 or 30 or 50 animals off of one farm,”
Bartlett said, adding that animals that can’t be confirmed as
killed by wolves aren’t reimbursed.

“If you start losing animals, you have to quit what you are
doing to watch the animals. (Farmers) don’t want to be in the
wolf-control business.

“I think that there is no doubt that the attacks will increase
with our regulatory agencies hamstrung to do anything,” Bartlett
said.

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