Wolf compensation, brucellosis communication bills advance out of committee in Wyoming
In Wyoming, like Colorado, the discussion of compensation for wolf depredation is top of mind as HB0188 passed through the House and made its way to the Senate Agriculture committee on Feb. 14 where it was extended until 2028 and passed unanimously.
The bill would compensate livestock owners for gray wolf depredation in the predator zone portion of the state. The bill would require the department of agriculture to certify the damage is the result of wolf depredation and determine a compensation amount according to department rules. The program, carried out with contracts between the department of agriculture, Wyoming Game and Fish Department, and the Animal and Plant Inspection Service, would cover any injury or loss to livestock inflicted by a gray wolf in the predator zone.
With the introduction of HB0188, the original funding allocation was $135,000 for the three-year program. Chairman John Eklund called the allocation “a pittance” and the appropriation was raised to $300,000.
During the House Agriculture committee hearing Wyoming Game and Fish Department Director Brian Nesvik told the committee that his agency pays for wolf damage in the trophy game area of the state and the annual amount varies between $142,000 to $390,000. His agency does not monitor wolves in the predator zone though the agency estimates there are close to 40 wolves in five packs, with at least one breeding pair. He also said he anticipates increased wolf conflicts in the southern portion of the state when Colorado begins releasing wolves as a result of a narrowly passed ballot initiative.
The bill passed out of appropriations unanimously and passed the House on Feb. 8 on a margin of 58 to 4 with nay votes cast by Reps. Ken Chestek, D-Albany, Bill Henderson, R- Laramie, Karlee Provenza, D- Albany, and Mike Yin, D-Teton. It was introduced to the Senate and referred to the Agriculture Committee on Feb. 9.
The bill’s primary sponsor Rep. John Winter, R- Big Horn, Fremont, Hot Springs, Park, was the first to testify before the Senate agriculture committee.
Julie Cook, administrative manager for the Wyoming Department of Agriculture, said when the program was set up in FY17, there were 13 payees for a total of $22,465. In 2022, there were five payees in the amount of $22,270. Prices in the two years the program was funded were based on fall livestock market prices for the class of livestock affected. Wyoming Game and Fish handles compensation in the trophy game management area, while the WDA allocation is for the predator zone only. The trophy game management area is located in northwest Wyoming and includes Yellowstone National Park and the surrounding areas east to Cody and Dubois, south to near Pinedale, northwest to Jackson and along the state line.
Brad Moline of Wyoming Farm Bureau expressed support for the bill and said he also anticipates increased conflicts with wolves in the southern part of the state with Colorado’s reintroduction of the apex predator.
Sen. Tim French, R-Park, asked how compensation will be handled if a collared wolf from Colorado kills livestock in the predator zone in Wyoming. Moline said he anticipates Wyoming “will have to bear the brunt of the cost of those depredations.”
“I would hazard a pretty good guess that the state to the south of us will not give Wyoming producers a penny,” he said. “It will be up to us to reimburse producers for their loss.”
IN THE PAST
Jim Magagna, executive vice president, Wyoming Stock Growers Association, testified also on behalf of Wyoming Wool Growers. He said when wolves were first introduced into Yellowstone National Park, and Wyoming was tasked with creating a wolf management plan for the state, stakeholders within the livestock industry agreed to forgo payment for damages within the trophy game management area for the ability to kill a wolf on sight in the predator zone.
Magagna offered history to clarify the gap years in compensation for damages and said the appropriation was made only when wolves were listed as endangered species. He said the listing and delisting, of course, goes back and forth until the state designated them as predators in much of the state. Originally, he said, producers didn’t seek compensation but with the relisting of wolves multiple times in the past decades, wolves have become wide spread across the state with larger populations that grew when they we’re classified as predators.
He also said in the trophy management area, U.S. Fish and Wildlife pays damages on a formula. Cow losses are 1:1 and calves and sheep are 7:1, based primarily on research completed in Montana that determined in the forested areas where problems typically occur, ranchers typically find one calf for every seven killed. He said it’s reasonable to pay on a 1:1 ration in the predator zone.
He said the cooperation between the WDA and U.S. Game and Fish or Wildlife Services is important as losses need to be confirmed by boots on the ground staff, which is a duty he said can’t be imposed on the WDA which lacks field staff to do so.
Sen. Larry Hicks’, R-Carbon, Sweetwater, amendment to extend the program until 2028 passed unanimously, as did the bill. It will return to appropriations and then on to the Senate as a whole.
A bill that would create a communication protocol as it relates to Brucellosis testing notifications has passed both the House and Senate Agriculture Committee. HB0180 is supported by the Wyoming Stock Growers Association in part, for clarifying the communication process for producers who may face laboratory testing in the future.
Steve True, director of the Wyoming Livestock Board, said he believes the bill signals the need for the board to sit down with producers within the Designated Surveillance Area to better understand their concerns with the current protocol and what can be done to improve it while staying within confidentiality requirements and USDA rules.
Other Greater Yellowstone Area states, Idaho and Montana, he said do the same. He said he believes the bill provides room to work through without violating USDA or WLB rules or confidentiality issues that would inhibit producers from marketing their livestock.
Wyoming State Veterinarian Dr. Hallie Hazel said, “prior to this language, whenever there was a laboratory confirmation of brucellosis, we notified others besides the owners. With this bill, that changes to a non-negative standing from the laboratory from the preliminary results.”
Dr. Hazel said the communication protocol will determine how and when notifications will be made and to whom, other than the owner, of a non-negative sample. She said this isn’t a confirmed positive Brucellosis sample, but a non-negative. She said it is incredibly important to maintain the confidentiality of results so as not to affect the owner’s ability to market cattle or nearby neighbors’ ability to market their cattle. It is, she said, vitally important to the bill that the WLB be able to establish that communication protocol to maintain confidentiality and to work within existing rules of the state and the other regulating agencies.
Magagna offered the support of WSGA and said based on the feedback of his members, producers are largely unaware of the existing protocol and don’t know what to expect, which could be remedied by outlining the communication protocol while still recognizing there must be some room for the professional judgment of the state veterinarian and the livestock board.
With one amendment to remove redundant language, the bill passed the Senate agriculture committee unanimously.