The Economic Effect of Wolf Predation on Ranching Families and Rural Communities

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The Economic Effect of Wolf Predation on Ranching Families and Rural Communities

By

Rod Haeberle and Steve McLaughlin

(The monetary numbers provided in this article are notional and introduced for the sole purpose of illustrating the unseen economic impact to a ranching family and the community. Actual numbers are protected to avoid retribution from activists)

On August 24, 2017, two wolf-killed calves were discovered on a federal grazing allotment. This brings the 2017 season total to 9 known calves killed or maimed by these predators in Washington State. To most, nine calf kills would not raise an eyebrow to anyone but the ranching family. But the economic impacts on our rural communities are far greater than what really meets the eye.

When a wolf preys on a herd of cattle and removes one or two calves from a herd, the breed rate of that herd is reduced by 20% to 30% (1). Herds harassed by wolves see a reduction in the breeding of about 10 to15% (2). Studies show that wolf harassments/depredations significantly elevate stress-related hormones and body temperatures, as well as causing nervous system changes in the brain (3). During the breeding season, most cows breed at a rate of around 95% (4) in any given herd. Reduction in calf birth rates year to year due to wolf depredation creates losses that directly impact the ranching family and our rural communities.

To illustrate this, assume the total number of breeding cows on a grazing allotment is numbered at 200 and the number of new calves born the following spring is 196, or 98% breeding success. At the end of the season, those open (non-pregnant) cows are usually sold at a diminished, salvage value price, that was recently between $62.00/Hundred wt. and $84.00/Hundred wt. The average breeding life of a cow is around 11 years. Selling an open cow results in loss of future calf production for up to ten years at an even greater loss of up to $12,500.00, assuming the average price of the sale of beef on the hoof is $1250 per head sold. Obviously, the price per head fluctuates depending upon market prices, but for illustrative means, we’ll use $1250 per head sold. If a herd suffers a wolf depredation, assume there will be a 20% reduction in breeding rate for the affected herd. Again, this is an average of breed rate reduction of between 20% and 30% depending upon the stresses placed upon the affected herd. Given the prices of losses, this summer the rancher will suffer a loss of $11,250.00 for the nine calves lost to wolves. Because of the decrease in calf production this summer, only 157 calves will be available in the following spring. Therefore, losses borne by the ranching family will be between $48,750 just in lost calves from early stress open cows. Combined together, losses will total around $60,000 (depredated calves plus open cows). In reality, losses are typically far greater than what is illustrated in this example as is it can be assumed from depredation studies in other states that the loss rate is for every 1 calf confirmed depredated, 7 more actually killed by the wolf.

Another element of loss to the rancher is the sale of open, wolf stressed cows or heifers. These cattle will be taken out of calf production and sold at dramatically reduced prices, and their breeding life will be shortened by up to 10 years, or ten calves, or another $12,500.00 per cow that is open in the herd. In our case, 39 cows were open that had to be sold! This loss totals $487,000 (12,500 x 39) over the lost breeding of the open cows! Finally, stress-related weight losses can reduce sale weight by up to 300 pounds per head. This can be staggering because the rancher sells every head of beef by weight!

To most ranchers, a loss of $60,000.00 over a one-year period is likely enough to put them out of business in a very short period of time. If a rancher can survive this level of loss, the ranching family will have to determine the sacrifices they will be required to make to their business and personal expenditures. On the personal level, a loss of this magnitude may result in loss of a college education for a family member or having to put off the purchase of equipment necessary to operate more efficiently. Consider the trickle-down effect; the college or university loses a student tuition, and the equipment dealer loses one major equipment sale that negatively affects the bottom line of the dealership. More rural families in the service and education sector are affected.

The current national unemployment rate is around 4%. In many rural counties in Washington, the unemployment rate is about 7% (5) during summer months and as high as 17% in winter months. The ranching family may also be required to lay off one or two ranch hands because of wolf predation losses, thus affecting the unemployment rate, the tax base and the trickle-down effect on purchases the employee would normally make in a given year. This includes fewer auto sales, less money spent in the grocery store, having to pass on a needed pair of shoes to the employee’s children. Moreover, the out of work employee would likely be required to go on public assistance thus negatively affecting the county tax base, and the taxpayers’ pocketbook.

Another consequence of wolf predation is the decimation of deer, elk and moose populations. Economic losses stemming from decreased hunting and game viewing opportunities affect sporting goods profit, hotel and restaurant profits. By the way, the wolf advocate will tell you that tourism Dollars will be increased when tourist come out to see the wild wolves roaming free across the landscape. The truth is, a friend of ours has had to endure terrible losses of his cattle over the years. In the past 10 years since wolves came back to Washington, he has only seen 2 or 3 wolves; and he lives out on the range with the wolves!

These are some of the unintended consequences of the reintroduction of a species that was never previously native to Washington State. Is there a better way to address the wolf issue than to spend unnecessary taxpayer money to keep the species on the state endangered species list? Do you think it is time to begin using effective control measures to achieve a balance to ensure wolves don’t brutally kill our domestic stock and wildlife populations?

Notes:

  1. Historic breeding records of a NE Washington Rancher in known higher population wolf area
  2. Historic breeding records of North Central Washington Rancher in threshold wolf population area
  3. Oregon State University Special Research Report: Impact of previous exposure and physiological responses of beef cattle following a simulated wolf encounter. R.F. Cooke, B.I. Cappellozza, M.M. Reis, D.D. Johnson, M.M. Borman, J. Williams, and D.W. Bohnert.
  4. Historic breeding records of ranches cited in (1 and 2)
  5. U.S. Dept of Labor Unemployment statistics, 2017 and Stevens County, WA seasonal employment statistics, 2017.