A lone wolf stands out on the horizon near Bondurant in 2017 in this photograph by Wyoming Game and Fish Department communication and information specialist Mark Gocke. (Mark Gocke/Wyoming Game and Fish Department)

CHEYENNE—Wyoming stockgrowers welcome relief for livestock killed by wolves in Wyoming’s unregulated “predator zone,” despite contradictions with the industry’s long-held stance.

The industry holds the position that because producers can legally take out cattle-killing wolves, there’s no expectation of compensation for losses. It’s maintaining that position even as a bill moves forward that would reimburse livestock producers who sustain wolf-related losses in the predator zone — the 85% of Wyoming where wolves are managed as predators and can be killed without license or limit. 

“That would still be our long-term position,” Wyoming Stock Growers Association Executive Vice President Jim Magagna told WyoFile. “This wasn’t a bill that we asked for, but it was brought so we took a look at it.” 

Jim Magagna, executive vice president of the Wyoming Stock Growers Association, listens to the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission during a January 2023 meeting. (Mike Koshmrl/WyoFile)

Magagna, testifying on behalf of the stockgrowers and the Wyoming Wool Growers Association, has supported House Bill 188 – Wolf depredation compensation as it’s advanced through the statehouse. In its essence, the legislation makes a head of livestock lost to wolves a reimbursable expense anywhere in the state of Wyoming. Already, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department administers a compensation program in the northwest corner of state, where the species is managed as trophy game and the preponderance of Wyoming wolves exist. House Bill 188 would allocate $300,000 for a parallel program administered by the Wyoming Department of Agriculture in the predator zone.

“As we all know, the wolf is pretty hard to come by,” Rep. John Winter (R-Thermopolis) testified in support of HB 188. “It’s hard to harvest them. And so it has really become a problem for these livestock operators.”

Rep. John Winter (R-Thermopolis) at the 67th Wyoming Legislature’s 2023 general session in Cheyenne. “In my estimation, the wolf was an illegal animal,” Winter told a House committee earlier in the session. “They were introduced illegally.” (Mike Koshmrl/WyoFile)

Wolf depredation is a year-in, year-out phenomenon where wolf range overlaps with domestic cattle and sheep grazing allotments, but problems remain centered in and around the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem where most Wyoming wolves exist — in the trophy game area where a compensation program is already in place. 

In that region, for example, Game and Fish compensated 18 livestock producers $208,124 in 2021 for 38 wolf-killed cattle, 32 wolf-killed sheep and six unspecified lost livestock, according to the state agency’s most recent annual report. Confirmed losses in the predator zone that year were less substantial: Three packs and solo wolves killed 12 cattle and 21 sheep. 

In 2020, wolves caused just three conflicts with cattle and one conflict with sheep in the predator zone, according to state reports.

Data shows that issues with wolf depredations are on the downswing in Wyoming. Overall compensation payments in the trophy game area have declined from greater than $300,000 annually between 2014 and 2017 to roughly $200,000 per year between 2018 and 2021, state wolf report numbers show. 

Wolf damage and compensation has fallen off since the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service delisted Wyoming wolves from threatened classification under the Endangered Species Act in 2017. (Wyoming Game and Fish Department)

Some rhetoric at the State Capitol building in recent weeks, however, suggests that wolf conflict is a runaway problem. 

Winter, HB 188’s primary sponsor, asked the experts which way the trends are going as his bill was being discussed in the House Agriculture, State and Public Lands and Water Resources Committee.

“Is this problem going to get worse in the predator zone?” Winter asked Game and Fish Director Brian Nesvik. “In other words, those wolves are moving east, are they not?” 

Nesvik said he “hoped not. 

“But I certainly believe that as wolves expand, especially to the south of us, that [they] certainly could,” he said. 

Game and Fish’s director was alluding to wolves spilling across the Colorado-Wyoming border from the newfound and soon-to-be augmented population south of the stateline. 

House Bill 188 has been amended since introduction to increase the budget for compensating producers for wolf-killed livestock in the predator zone. Initially the legislation proposed $135,000 from the general fund, but the most recent allocation is up to $300,000 for a five-year period. 

The proposed predator zone wolf depredation compensation program has enjoyed nearly unanimous support. It has cleared all its committee votes with across-the-board ayes. House Bill 188 passed the floor of Wyoming House of Representatives on its third reading 58-4, with Reps. Ken Chestek (D-Laramie), Bill Henderson (R-Cheyenne), Karleee Provenza (D-Laramie) and Mike Yin (D-Jackson) opposed. 

House Bill 188 passed its first two Senate floor votes and likely faces its final hurdle in the upper chamber on Wednesday.

Mike Koshmrl reports on Wyoming's wildlife and natural resources. Prior to joining WyoFile, he spent nearly a decade covering the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem’s wild places and creatures for the Jackson...

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  1. And who is going to confirm that the loses were actually caused by wolves ? The same people that the ranchers have under their thumb now that say whatever the ranchers tell them to . A child has to get off the nipple about time ranchers did to .

  2. Just because we kill wolves at random does not mean we are not fixing the problem. I have many ideas that can be used and it will cost money. There is the problem.

  3. I could care less if the wolves kill all the invasive species cows in Wyoming. I only eat venison, elk, and bison – the cattle industry won’t get my money. Used to be 20 million bison here but they were killed off so an invasive species could be harvested, not to mention part of the Native American eradication program.

    1. Your idea is great. I always wondered if the wolf smells something wrong with the cattle. They hunt down and kill? We supposedly are intelligent. But we’re not using our mental powers to solve this problem.

  4. My Grandfather, Frank V. Watt who homesteaded near Moorcroft, Wyoming had a picture of about 50 men, all mounted on horses who he said went on the last wolf hunt. We did well without them.

  5. I prefer wolves to livestock, which is “produced” in such low quantity in Wyoming as not to be a concern, economic, or otherwise.

    1. No concern to you, but what about the rancher who looses a significant part of the sheep and cattle he owns? What about the millions of low income families that could no longer afford to buy any meat for their family? Is is really more important to be able to watch animals torn apart and eaten alive more important?

  6. This would be a moot point if they were designated Trophy Game statewide. That was tried at the time but rejected by the agricultural lobby. Now they’re trying the work around.

  7. Of course all resources go to the ag producers who already get plenty of welfare dollars (same fund). Meanwhile dragging down our coffers in this state. Bad form!

    1. Gee, that is simple, grow all of your own food & you won’t have to worry about farmers and ranchers getting any of it. I don’t mind paying for what I get. I got paid for the work I did taking care of sick people.

      1. Very little of the food (including meat) purchased in Wyoming is produced in Wyoming. Get over it!

        1. So who purchases it then? Are easterners that much smarter than Wyomingites? Don’t think so. As for the wolves, those who want them should be the ones to pay for them and the damage they do.