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Here’s how much Minnesota has paid out for wolf kills of livestock over the last two decades

gray wolf
In the last decade, the Minnesota Department of Agriculture has paid out an average of $135,000 each year on an average of about 110 annual wolf depredation claims.

Every year, gray wolves kill dozens, if not hundreds, of farm animals in Minnesota.

It’s not just wolves – coyotes also known to sometimes prey on livestock for food. But with wolves it’s different: If a coyote is after an animal, a farmer is well within their right to shoot it. Wolves, on the other hand, are federally protected under the Endangered Species Act, which means only government agents can legally kill them unless they’re threatening a human life.

It’s that distinction that prompted the state to create a program years ago that pays livestock producers for the animals they lose to wolves.

In the last decade, the Minnesota Department of Agriculture has paid out an average of $135,000 on about 110 wolf depredation claims each year.

Gray wolves

Gray wolves once roamed across much of the lower 48 U.S. states, but hunters and government programs targeted wolves to try to prevent loss of livestock. In the 1950s, gray wolves numbered fewer than 750 in Minnesota, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

Minnesota had the only reproducing gray wolf population in the U.S. outside of Alaska when, in 1973, the animals were listed under the Endangered Species Act, protecting them from hunts. In subsequent decades, their numbers have increased to more than 2,000 in Minnesota. The most recent wolf population report from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources estimates the Minnesota wolf population at 2,655 animals.

In 2007, gray wolves were taken off the endangered species list in the western Great Lakes region, but judge’s action re-listed them. This cycle of de-listing and re-listing happened several times between 2009 and 2014.

Every time the issue comes up, there are passionate voices on each side. On the one hand are ranchers, who say wolves have reached healthy population levels and are hurting their ability to make a living. On the other are advocates of the animals, who say despite wolves’ protected status, the animals have not recovered to their natural range, and that they serve as an important part of Minnesota’s ecosystem.

Ranchers’ recourse

Under Minnesota law, producers can be reimbursed for livestock killed by wolves — as long as investigators can prove that wolves were the cause of an animal’s death. The Minnesota Department of Agriculture gets an appropriation from the Legislature to pay out claims to producers whose livestock have been killed by wolves.

If a farmer suspects an animal was killed by wolves, they’re asked to contact an investigator with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal Plant Health Inspection Services or the DNR. In Kittson County, sheriff’s deputies are also trained to investigate wolf depredation.

Hallmarks of a kill by a wolf include extensive damage to the animal’s carcass. Sometimes investigators skin carcasses to check for evidence of hemorrhaging beneath the hide, which would suggest heavy trauma associated with a wolf’s powerful bite, said John Hart, a wildlife biologist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services.

If it’s clear the loss was due to a wolf, the producer can submit a claim to the Minnesota Department of Agriculture. The Department of Agriculture consults with the University of Minnesota Extension to determine the market value of the loss, then pays the claim.

Federal wildlife authorities also have the authority to kill wolves when they’ve become a significant problem. That tends to happen when there’s a history of wolves killing livestock on a property and potential for future kills, Hart said. The number of wolves federal and state agents have killed in recent years has ranged between 132 and 263, and authorities also use non-lethal means to control wolves, motion-activated flashing lights and alarms and physical barriers. In the last decade, the state has paid out between 60 and 113 claims each year.

Wolf depredation claims by year
Note: Multiple animals can be included in one claim.
Source: Minnesota Department of Agriculture
Wolf depredation claim payment totals by year
Source: Minnesota Department of Agriculture

In 2019, authorities verified 74 calf kills, 11 cow kills, two sheep kills, two dog kills and 10 “other” animal kills in Minnesota, and 13 animals — mostly calves — wounded by wolves. The state made payments on 78 claims, totaling about $107,000.

Conflict zone

Most of the claims come from north-west and north-central Minnesota.

“That conflict zone is the forest-agriculture transition area. Basically where cow habitat and wolf habitat overlap,” Hart said. “If you ran a line from Hinckley to Aitkin to Brainerd to Bagley to Thief River Falls to Lancaster, 50 to 75 miles on either side of that line is where most of it occurs.”

The number of calls to Hart’s department about wolf depredation tends to be consistent, although there do seem to be more wolf kills when the whitetail deer population — a major source of food for wolves — goes down quickly.

Mike Landuyt, the president of the Minnesota State Cattleman’s Association, said the number of wolf kills of livestock is likely vastly underreported because they’re so hard to prove.

“When there’s a kill, sometimes there won’t even be blood. They lick the blood right out of the grass, so that’s what makes it so hard. There’s no legs or bones or even blood to say there was a calf there in the first place,” he said.

One summer, Joe Wilebski, a rancher in Kittson County who has had fairly chronic issues with wolves, says he says he lost 26 calves to wolves, and was paid for eight of them.

Deterring wolves

Hart said he thinks the presence of a Fish and Wildlife trappers has helped increase the tolerance of wolves in agricultural areas, but conflicts between ranchers and the people who want to protect wolves remain.

The Minnesota Department of Agriculture has urged producers with wolf problems to apply for grants that help pay for things like livestock guardian animals, wolf-deterring lights and alarms and fencing.

The program is relatively new, but has gotten some positive reviews from some of the participants who have gotten funding already.

Comments (18)

  1. Submitted by Dr Rin Porter on 02/10/2020 - 12:45 pm.

    Hi Greta,
    It doesn’t appear that you contacted any of the environmental groups like Defenders of Wildlife, Howling for Wolves, Center for Biological Diversity, etc., that have loads of data about wolf-livestock conflicts. They would be good sources for you in gaining understanding of the situation in Minnesota and other states.

    Also missing from your article were statistics on the livestock population in Minnesota. Well over one million animals are raised, including cattle, sheep, goats, and llamas. When you compare the number of wolf depredations to the population of livestock, it becomes clear that wolf depredations are less than one-tenth of one percent of the deaths of livestock. Even USDA agrees with that. Far more cattle die from lightning strikes, floods, respiratory illnesses, birthing, etc., than die as a result of wolves. It’s important to provide that context. Otherwise, it appears that wolves are the only reason why farmers and ranchers lose cattle. And that’s clearly not true.

    Thank you for writing about this topic. I hope you will again.

    Dr Rin Porter
    Bloomington MN

    • Submitted by Gerry Anderson on 02/10/2020 - 06:54 pm.

      Easy to day when it’s not your livelihood.
      “.. he says he lost 26 calves to wolves, and was paid for eight of them….”

  2. Submitted by Delbor Raymondo on 02/10/2020 - 01:47 pm.

    Easy for you to say, living in the Twin Cities.
    Article also doesn’t address the adverse effects on the moose population. Most of northern Minnesota is at its carrying capacity for wolves, and control should be given back to the DNR.

    Personally I think wolves should be reintroduced to every state in their historic range, with full federal protection until they are well established. The whole northeastern US would be a good start. Vermont, New York, Massachusetts etc.

    • Submitted by Michelle Valadez on 02/10/2020 - 04:35 pm.

      Actually Delbert, Minnesota is not at its carrying capacity for wolves. There is no such thing. The wolf population is completely dependent on prey availability and if you want to see the wolf population go down you’ll need to decrease their main source of prey which is deer. This is something that has been reported by Dr. David Mech and other scientists for yrs including in several news reports last yr when the 2019 wolf population survey was complete. Re: moose. It has already been established that the moose decline is from brain-worm. Reported again in several news reports including in the Timberjay (northern MN main paper) and the Star Tribune (Twin Cities main paper) with numerous quotes from DNR and UofM researchers. The DNR had a chance to prove they could manage wolves and they failed which is why a federal judge put them back on the Endangered Species List and why the Court of Appeals upheld that ruling. Delisting is a violation of the Endangered Species Act. If the DNR wants to manage wolves again they have to prove they are capable and they start with no wolf hunting or trapping season.

      • Submitted by Michelle Valadez on 02/10/2020 - 04:40 pm.

        Also, wolves are self regulating. This is what distinguishes apex predators from other species. They don’t allow themselves to exceed “carrying capacity.” Why do you think wolves will kill other wolves? Even Mech has reported that when wolves are under stress such as access to few prey animals to help sustain them during winters months they forgo estrus. This is why wolves are known for balancing ecosystems (see the Yellowstone wolf story). They keep prey and their own numbers in check.

    • Submitted by Dennis Wagner on 02/10/2020 - 06:26 pm.

      As this observations suggests, as moose population declines so do the wolves, there are also other factors that can take them out.

    • Submitted by Gerry Anderson on 02/10/2020 - 06:56 pm.

      Proven the vast majority of moose calf’s are killed by wolves.
      We see them in broad daylight just a few hundred yards from cabins that have kids and pets. Just north of Virginia. Not like on the edge of the BWCA.

  3. Submitted by Bob Barnes on 02/10/2020 - 04:32 pm.

    Seems like an easy solution. 1.3 million in taxpayer funds vs just shooting the wolves….shoot the wolves. As pointed out, farmers aren’t reimbursed for many of their losses either. We need to stop wasting tax dollars on stupid stuff like this. Let the farmers handle it and there won’t be any loss of livestock.

  4. Submitted by Robert Ahles on 02/10/2020 - 08:14 pm.

    Wolves are deer killing machines. I remember the Halloween snow storm of 1991 with the opening of the deer season a couple of days later. The deer could hardly move in the deep snow and many hunters in our area were finding frequent deer kills by wolves that left the kills without feeding on them. Heavy winter snows are hard on the deer herd but add wolves and mortality rises significantly. Wolves with full bellies just don’t stop killing deer, especially when it is an easy kill in deep snow.

    Reduce the wolf population and increase the deer herd, it is as simple as that. The Minnesota DNR is more than capable of managing both wolf and deer numbers and does not need the federal government making rulings on Minnesota wolf management. A moratorium on wolf hunting will probably result in more wolves being killed as Minnesota deer hunters become more and more upset with lower deer numbers and a higher wolf population, especially in those years with heavy snowfalls.

    The Minnesota DNR needs to manage all types of wildlife, especially wolves.

  5. Submitted by craig lundeen on 02/10/2020 - 08:17 pm.

    I see a wolf killing any farm animal….it’s a dead wolf!

  6. Submitted by joe smith on 02/11/2020 - 06:54 am.

    The article clearly stated the livestock in danger are along a line from central Minnesota to the N’west. Talking about percentage of livestock killed throughout the state is not applicable. Wolves have all but killed off moose up here on the Arrowhead. Wolf population needs to be controlled by DNR, not a judge in Alabama or Arkansas.

  7. Submitted by Dennis Wagner on 02/11/2020 - 08:55 am.

    Reading some of these comments reminds me of the book “Never Cry wolf” lots of anecdotal notes about how the wolves are killing everything off, but if they killed everything off, how did those moose etc survive after 1000’s of years, they should all be gone? Farley Mowat, a Canadian biologist, might disagree with some of the local assessments, but could be a case of fake biology!

  8. Submitted by Leland Hendrickson on 02/13/2020 - 05:06 pm.

    If a wolf kills a heifer calf that over it’s lifetime would have had at least 10 calves the farmer is not being reimbursed near enough for his loss.

  9. Submitted by Dennis Wagner on 02/14/2020 - 10:54 am.

    So if a farmer loses some land by eminent domain for a power line, the suggestion is, the farmer should get yearly lost crop reimbursements to theoretically the end of time.

  10. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 02/20/2020 - 04:13 pm.

    Unfortunately this article follows a business reporting and as such is devoid of the context we actually need to understand the issue. How much money cattle farmers make in a typical year? How much less do they make if a wolf kills their cattle? It’s a simple question, yet no one asks.

    No one in any business is guaranteed profit and revenue, and there are many factors that can reduce revenue. We can’t evaluate the actual financial effect of wolf kills without knowing the over-all costs and revenue. There’s a big difference between losing one or two of hundreds of head of cattle or one or two of dozens. How big are these herds? Do ranchers go into business expecting no losses of any kind year after year?

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