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.”
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.”
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.
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.
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.