More attention needs to be paid to predator problem

RBC | Led by President Angelo “Butch” Theos, the Rio Blanco County Wool Growers (RBCWG) held their annual predator control program review on Dec. 15. According to RBCWG secretary-treasurer, Connie Theos, this event is intended to consider the financing and efficacy of their predator control program including the determination of the annual per head assessment for willing sheep producers in the county. The program is conducted in partnership with the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).
The meeting came on the heels of growing concern that funding for predator control efforts has been shifted considerably onto the backs of fewer and fewer sheep producers, and those efforts are not meeting the need with regard to domestic livestock as well as the impact of predators on wildlife. Connie Theos reported to the Herald Times that sheep producer share of predator control program costs have risen from roughly 48 percent to approximately 62 percent of the total now, supporting only one federal “trapper” employee and program expenses for the county.
According to County Commissioner Si Woodruff, several months ago, as part of their community awareness efforts, the commissioners invited Dave Moreno and Justin Ewing of the Wildlife Services agency (WS) of APHIS to participate in a community update session. Moreno is the regional supervisor for WS out of Grand Junction and Ewing is their local employee.
At the update meeting, Woodruff said Moreno and Ewing spoke about the special predator study and control effort ongoing in the Piceance Creek area and the many bear issues they dealt with this summer, among other topics. They explained the difference between wolves naturally coming to Colorado versus wolves being re-introduced, the noticeable difference between coyote kills and wolf kills—weight, teeth structure, etc.—and the impact of wolves on the elk population in Yellowstone National Park. Woodruff told the Herald Times, “Since I’m a hunter, I was very interested in what they had to say. It seemed that the citizens in attendance were, too.”
Wolf re-introduction in Colorado has also been of increasing concern locally after the Sierra’s Club’s Trappers Lake Chapter, which represents Jackson, Moffat, Rio Blanco and Routt counties, held a Dec. 7 meeting in Steamboat Springs at which they set forth their resolve that wolves will be re-introduced in Colorado. The Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) Commission, however, has policy that states there will be no wolf re-introduction in the state.
The federal Wildlife Services agency has as a primary responsibility to protect livestock from predation. WS reports that despite producers’ best efforts to protect their livestock, predators kill thousands of domesticated farm animals each year. Producers frequently turn to WS to reduce and prevent further predation. The agency’s integrated approach includes recommendations applied by producers and, in many cases, operational wildlife management implemented by WS personnel. In Colorado, they work cooperatively with state agriculture and wildlife agencies, counties and local livestock associations to reduce predation damage for livestock producers.
In addition, Wildlife Services in Colorado contributes to the conservation of species listed as threatened and endangered through their partnerships. For example, the agency assisted CPW with a research project to protect Gunnison sage grouse from predation during the nesting season, removing predators from an area that previously had almost no chick survival.
WS strives to meet assistance requests within the constraints of its resources and capabilities so that all citizens have access to program services. The agency suggests that collaborative, partner-based approaches will be increasingly important among natural resource and agriculture agencies to meet public needs.
In Colorado, protecting livestock from predation by coyotes, black bear and mountain lions is one of Wildlife Service’s top five assistance activities. Similarly, improving predator damage management methods for agriculture and urban environments is one of their top five research projects.
Woodruff said that he and his fellow commissioners tried to find 2018 county budget money to help with predator management, but were not able to do so. Woodruff added, however, that they are anxious to find support for a better predator control effort given how important elk and deer numbers are to our local economy.
The current budget for the Wool Grower Wildlife Services program in RBC is about $114,000. Woodruff said that he understands that CPW now contributes about $100,000 annually to a separate effort via contract with USDA, mostly for problem bears which helps producers of all kinds of livestock. Woodruff feels the county and CPW should attempt to work together even more on this issue as CPW studies on fawn survival rates are very convincing, especially in terms of fawn mortality by predators.
Woodruff also reported that County Assessor Renae Neilson has researched existing laws which enable a county, if the majority of livestock owners vote to approve such a plan, to levy a fee based on the number of animals owned in order to fund a program. Neilson also has looked at the history of similar assessment programs in RBC.
County commissioners Woodruff and Jeff Rector participated in the Dec. 15 meeting. Cattlemen Chad Carter and Brian Collins also attended, as did a couple Moffat County sheep men with similar issues. The APHIS Wildlife Services employees who attended reported on the status of the current program.
A work committee from the meeting has been formed to consider funding possibilities and is expected to meet the week of Jan. 15. Participants in the committee include representatives of the county, the RBC Wool Growers, RBC Stockgrowers, outfitters, CPW, Wildlife Services and possible other interested parties. It is further expected that the committee will prepare a proposal for cattle producers to consider at their annual meeting in February. For more information, individuals are encouraged to contact Commissioner Woodruff at si.woodruff@rbc.us or 970-878-9433.