Grizzly Bears Kill Record Number of Livestock, Still Not Number 1 Predator




Despite the record number of livestock killed already this year by the bears and the attention they’ve received for ranging farther out on the Rocky Mountain plains this year and into towns, they are still not Montana’s number one predator of livestock.  Not even close. 


Wildlife Services has had their hands full this year.  According to John Steuber, Montana Wildlife Services State Director, the number of livestock killed by Grizzly bears has already topped numbers from 2015 which was a record high year.   


In 2015, there were 90 head of livestock confirmed killed and probable killed by Grizzly bears.  As of May 31 of this year, 94 head of livestock have been confirmed killed and probable; a number that doesn’t include the 40 sheep killed near Valier over Memorial Weekend,  the 2 alpacas and a couple calves.  Stueber also said he currently had at least 10 more requests to co-investigate potential kills with FWP.  


George Edwards with the Montana Livestock Loss Board noted that claims from producers for livestock losses by grizzlies are up as well.  The Livestock Loss Board provides compensation to producers for livestock killed by grizzly bears or wolves.  Each year the board received $200,000 in state funds to pay for loss claims that have been verified by Wildlife Services.  Ranchers are compensated 100{2fba0047518ad2e639da733ea78e24abf77cec06f485a26b152e17f2a77aa67a} for verified death losses based on the current market price, but there is no compensation for missing or unverified livestock.  Unused funding rolls over to the next year in the event that the losses exceed state funds with the account balance capped at $300,000.  Last year, just over $193,000 in compensation was paid out to producers for 170 predator kills. 


As of June 17, Livestock Loss Board has received claims for 24 grizzly kills, with 14 of them from Glacier county alone.  Just to get a feel for how much more bear activity is being seen this year by producers, Edwards provided the following comparison.  

Livestock Claims Received by the Livestock Loss Board from Jan 1 – June 1 of each year

2014—-3 head killed by grizzlies $4,887.48—16 head killed by wolves $20,386.28

2015—-4 head killed by grizzlies $6,423.38 —11 head killed by wolves $16,412.87

2016—15 head killed by grizzlies $16,436.68 —20 head killed by wolves $21,578.30


So what is the number one livestock killer?  Coyotes. 


“Coyotes are still the primary predator in the state.  And a lot of that can be attributed to their range and numbers are certainly higher.  Wolf range is still limited, primarily in the western half of the state, as is grizzly bear range, although both are spreading, ” said Steuber.  


In 2015, The Montana National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) report combined sheep and lamb losses by predators totaled 17,700 head, up 1,300 from a year ago costing sheep producers an estimated $3.21 million, up from the previous year.  Coyotes accounted for 80{2fba0047518ad2e639da733ea78e24abf77cec06f485a26b152e17f2a77aa67a} of all the predator caused sheep losses, with a value of $2.28 million.  Producers do not receive compensation for coyote predation, unlike  or wolf or grizzly bear predation.  


Stueber noted that the numbers he had for coyote kills were only where producers had called in, and wasn’t surprised the NASS numbers were much higher.  Wildlife Services reported the deaths of  240 adult sheep and 1471 lambs by coyotes, where as NASS reported approximately 14,000 sheep and lamb deaths in 2015.  Many deaths by coyotes go unreported to Wildlife Services said Steuber.  


Cattle death loss numbers are only reported by NASS every 5 years in Montana with a report coming out this fall, but Wildlife Services reported 212 calves and 1 cow killed by coyotes in 2015. Steuber said he would expect the actual number of cattle killed by coyotes to also be much higher.  


By contrast, wolves and grizzlies accounted for 112 cattle and 54 sheep reported to the Livestock Loss Board in 2015.  These numbers include both confirmed and probable kills.  


One key problem is that funding for Wildlife Services to manage predator control has not increased.  Even with the increased grizzly bear activity, and other predators, the funding has not increased, and takes away from funding available for wildlife managers to deal with coyotes.  According to Steuber, calls to Wildlife Services requesting investigations into potential grizzly bear livestock kills doubled between 2014 and 2015.  He didn't have a number yet for 2016, but anticipates it will be far greater.  


Montana Wool Growers President Dave McEwen shared his frustration over multiple aspects of grizzly bear predation management, particularly how the increased grizzly activity is affecting other predator management, like coyotes.   


Steuber agreed with McEwan regarding the limited Wildlife Services budget, “We have an annual federal appropriations, and it's limited and it's set, so we don't get more funding depending on how much predation there is.  The more wolf and grizzly predation there is, the more resources we put towards that, and there may be less resources available for other types of predation in any given year.”  


“Other than the federal appropriations, all our funding is from cooperators, that is livestock producers who pay the state per capita tax to the Department of Livestock, or from sheep or cattle petitions taxes paid by producers and collected by Montana Stockgrowers or Montana Wool Growers for predator damage management,” said Steuber.


However, grizzly bears, unlike coyotes or even wolves in some cases, come with few management options for the rancher, and that increases the frustration.  Unlike coyotes, ranchers can't shoot grizzly bears when they are harassing livestock.  Producers can do little besides hope the bears move on before killing livestock.  When the bears are relocated by FWP, they often return.  Even hazing has become a grey area with the distance a rancher is allowed to chase or scare a bear away from homesteads or livestock up for debate. 


With grizzly bear predations starting almost 3 month early this year causing an already record number of livestock deaths and coyote predations on an upward trend as well, funding for predator management and where it's allocated could be a big issue this year.  


© Northern Ag Network 2016



Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x