Wolves of the World
Depredation on Livestock and Pets
Wherever they coexist, wolves may prey on domestic animals. However, wolves normally prefer natural prey such as deer and elk. When wolves kill domestic animals the act is called "depredation." Wolves and domestic animals have interacted with dogs and cattle in North America since the arrival of Europeans. Yet efforts to understand and manage wolf and domestic animal interactions without whole-scale eradication did not begin in earnest until the mid 1970s.
Since protection was instituted, wolf numbers in Minnesota have steadily increased. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources estimated the wolf population in Minnesota at approximately 3,020 (with a variation of 700+/-individuals) animals during the winter of 2003-04, an increase in population of 23 percent since 1998.
As the wolf population increased, its range has almost ceased to expand southward and westward. The gray wolf's range in Minnesota is approximately 29,197 square miles. Even with the population increase, verified wolf depredation claims are somewhat stable, with a peak from 1997-2002 and a slow decrease in 2003 and 2004.
Even during times of high numbers of depredations, only a small portion of Minnesota farmers are affected. In 2004, a total of 52 farms, approximately 1 percent of the farms in Minnesota's wolf range, had verified incidents of depredation; this number is down from 87 farms in 1999. These livestock-raisers are eligible for compensation of up to $750 per animal by the Minnesota Department of Agriculture. Producers are not compensated for losses to other predators, such as bear or coyote. Compensation payments paid to Minnesota farmers in 2003 totalled $53,853, the lowest since 1997.
The number of wolf depredations may be higher than reported, as many claims of wolf depredation, such as missing calves, can not be verified. Even though this is true, the view of wolves as livestock predators has sometimes been exaggerated, as depredation caused by coyotes, dogs and bears is often misidentified by farmers as wolf depredation.
Most verified losses occur from May through October when livestock are released to graze in open and wooded pastures. Some animal husbandry practices, such as calving in forested or brushy pastures and disposing of livestock carcasses in or near pastures, have been believed to contribute to wolf depredation in Minnesota. However, new research has indicated that these factors do not contribute to wolf depredation.
Cattle, sheep and turkeys are the domestic animals most often taken by wolves, however, domestic dog depredation does occur. Wolf depredation on dogs has become more common in recent years as wolves have colonized areas with higher human densities. Dog owners in wolf territories can reduce the opportunity for wolf depredation by keeping pets inside or in an enclosed kennel if wolves are known to be in the area.
Verified wolf depredation on domestic animals in Wisconsin and Michigan (dogs are not paid for in MI) are compensated for 100 percent of the estimated value of the livestock.
Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming
Between 1987-2003, wolves in northwestern Montana killed an average of six
cattle, five sheep, and fewer than one dog annually, a relatively small loss to
the livestock industry. Wolf damage is often significant to individual ranchers,
however, and always provokes an emotional response. Fortunately,
the Defenders of Wildlife initiated
a private livestock compensation program that has reimbursed all producers
who had confirmed wolf-caused losses. Their program paid out $300,000 to
livestock producers in Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming from 1987-2003.
Wolves were reintroduced from Canada to central Idaho and Yellowstone
National Park in January 1995 and 1996. Wolves have adapted to their new home
better than expected and now total approximately 1,200. Before wolves were
reintroduced, the service predicted that 100 wolves would kill about 10-20
cattle and 60-70 sheep annually in each of the two areas. Verified losses have been much lower, averaging four cattle, 18 sheep, and one dog in central Idaho
and seven cattle, 25 sheep and one dog in the area around Yellowstone. As of 2004, in response to
these depredations, 38 wolves have been moved and 45 have been killed
in Idaho. In and around Yellowstone, 42 wolves have been moved and 95 have been
killed. Wolves observed attacking livestock can be legally shot by livestock
producers under regulations known as the experimental-nonessential rule. Under the Endangered Species Act, wolves in the specified reintroduction area are classified as experimental and nonessential, a designation which minimizes the infringement on private landowner rights, yet provides managers the important tools to manage the species.
Wolf restoration efforts in the northern Rocky Mountains have been
successful far beyond predictions, and the service feels that wolf populations
are recovered (10 breeding pairs in each of the three recovery
areas for three successive years). The service is currently preparing to transfer protection and management over the the states of Montana, Idaho and Wyoming.
*A verified complaint is one in which USDA officials determine that wolves have killed or maimed one or more domestic animals as evidenced by (1) observing wounded animals or remains of animals killed and (2) finding other evidence of wolf involvement.
For further information on wolf depredation in Minnesota, write:
Wolf Management Specialist
1. Fritts, S.H., W.J. Paul, L.D. Mech, and D.P. Scott. 1992. Trends and Management of Wolf-Livestock Conflicts in Minnesota. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Resources Publication 181. 27pp.
2. Paul, W.J. 2000. Annual update of Minnesota wolf depredation statistics. U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, Grand Rapids, Minnesota. Unpublished report.
3. Mech, L.D., E.K. Harper, T.J. Meier, and W.J. Paul.
4. Bangs, E.E., J.A. Fontaine, M.D. Jimenez, B. Cox,
T.J. Meier, and D. Boyd.
5. Bangs, E.E., S.H. Fritts, D.R. Harms, J.A. Fontaine, M.D. Jimeniz, W.G. Brewster, and C.C. Niemeyer Control of Endangered Gray Wolves in Montana. Pages 127-134 in L.N. Carbyn, S.H. Fritts and D.R. Seip Eds. Ecology and Conservation of Wolves in a Changing World. Canadian Circumpolar Inst. Occa. Publ. No. 25, Univ. of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada.
6. Bangs, E.E., and S.H. Fritts 1996. Reintroducing the Gray Wolf to Central Idaho and Yellowstone National Park. Wildl. Soc. Bull. 24(3):402-413.
7. Bangs, E.E., S.H. Fritts, J.A. Fontaine, D.W. Smith, K.M. Murphy, C.M. Mack, and C.C. Niemeyer. 1998 Status of gray wolf restoration in Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming. Wildl. Soc. Bull. 26:785-798.
8. Paul, W.J. 2003. Annual update of Minnesota wolf depredation statistics. U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, Grand Rapids, Minnesota. Unpublished report.Updated August 2007