Washington’s non-lethal wolf deterrence may come with untenable cost
The Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife is proposing a new rule to require that to authorize lethal control of wolves, the agency would need to confirm the livestock producer had proactively implemented “appropriate non-lethal conflict deterrence measures.” The rule change would apply in chronic wolf-livestock conflict areas, and the agency acknowledges it will “disproportionately impact small businesses” since 98 percent of livestock industry businesses are small businesses. Although the use of non-lethal deterrents would not be required, the agency will consider whether producers were using deterrents in making decisions regarding the lethal removal of a wolf, and it is also a factor in maintaining eligibility to receive compensation for livestock losses.
The agency’s small business economic impact statement for the rule change notes that WDFW would develop Conflict Mitigation Plans in areas with chronic livestock depredations, and expects that those plans will provide producers with the clarification of the process through which lethal removal of wolves will be considered, which “may encourage some livestock producers to be more proactive in implementing non-lethal deterrents.”
“For these businesses, earnest attempts to implement non-lethal deterrents are likely to cost on the order of thousands to tens of thousands of dollars per year per business,” the report states. “Furthermore, WDFW indicates that human presence (including range riding) will continue to be a key focus of wolf-livestock conflict mitigation under the rule and this measure is the most expensive, ranging up to $55,000 per year. This constitutes a significant fraction of average industry revenues for businesses that may bear these costs and would be an untenable cost for the smallest businesses. Although public funds may be provided to offset some of the costs of range riding and implementation of other non-lethal deterrents, this assistance typically does not cover the full cost of these activities and is subject to availability.”
WDFW noted, “Since gray wolves began recolonizing certain areas of Washington in 2008 and depredation on livestock was first documented, affected livestock producers have incurred costs, including lost revenues resulting from livestock mortalities and injuries, reduced weight gain and pregnancy rates of the livestock due to stress created by wolf presence, and the costs of implementation of non-lethal deterrents intended to reduce wolf depredation on livestock. Although WDFW and other state and federal government agencies and non-governmental organizations work with the industry to compensate them for some of these costs, overall, wolf presence and depredation have adversely affected some livestock producers.”
The documents note that producers in chronic damage areas have been working hard to try to deter wolves, using a full range of recommended measures. According to the report, “Livestock producers that have personally experienced depredation and are under continued exposure to wolves are generally implementing the greatest variety and intensity of non-lethal deterrents. Most industry representatives interviewed for this analysis who have experienced depredation identified implementation of all relevant and potentially effective non-lethal deterrents including near daily range riding throughout the turnout season, monitoring livestock, radio activated guard (RAG) boxes, fox lights, fladry fencing (where applicable), hazing, strategic sanitation, relocating turnout sites away from den locations, and delayed turnout of calves.”
The total annual costs spent on implementation of non-lethal deterrents varies widely across businesses in Washington, according to the report. “Generally speaking, costs incurred by businesses that have experienced and are actively deterring repeated wolf depredation incur the greatest costs. Producers in this category cited annual out-of-pocket costs ranging from $30,000 to over $50,000 spent on implementing non-lethal deterrents. For businesses paying out-of-pocket for range riding, these costs are the greatest of the expenses incurred.”
While there are some state programs that contribute to the wolf depredation prevention effort, none of the programs pay the entire costs for the preventative measures, or cover other costs associated with living with wolves.
“In addition to the costs of implementing the non-lethal deterrents, there are administrative costs associated with use of these deterrents,” the report stated. “According to one interviewee, these costs include contacting and coordinating range riders on a daily basis, thoroughly documenting and logging range riding activities and use of other non-lethal deterrents, and time spent downloading and checking game cameras. For larger operations requiring concentrated and daily range riding, annual costs could exceed $10,000 annually.”
“Industry representatives interviewed also noted the opportunity costs associated with having to direct resources (either their own time, or that of their employees) to activities associated with implementing non-lethal deterrents,” the report noted. “Although this time would be spent on business related activities regardless of wolf depredation prevention needs, time spent on those activities detracts from the time available to engage in other necessary business activities.”
WDFW is currently accepting public comment on the proposal, which can be found at wdfw.wa.gov. If adopted, the new rule would be implemented in January 2023.
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