Wolf injures calf near Libby [MT]. Why is this a news story!?

The Associated Press has written a story about wolf injuring a cow calf in the vicinity of Libby, MT. See AP story in the Helena Independent Record.
While wolves overall are a minor source of livestock mortality, much larger wolf depredations (such as 5 calves being killed) in Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming do not get in the news. I don’t report them anymore unless there is something unusual about the event.

That this event would make the news, shows the random nature of much reporting on the subject. Common events do  sometimes make the news, and people who don’t follow the subject get the wrong impression about how often such things happen.







  1. Rob Edward Avatar

    To my mind, Ralph, the larger question is why are any depredations news? If the minimal number of depredations each year add-up to news, then why does the Associated Press not do a major story every time it rains and scores of sheep die because they fall over and are too heavy and wet to get back up? Many more sheep die in the Northern Rockies every year from ‘turtling’, as it’s called, than die at the maws of those pesky wolves.

    Frankly, I think it is the federal and state agencies that are responsible for making news of these depredations. It’s time for that to stop, or for the ag agencies to implement similar press release procedures for turtling, lighting-strike and disease related livestock deaths.

  2. Dana Avatar

    Why don’t they report on the livestock harassed by dogs, there are many people out there that don’t take the responsibility of keeping there pets in control, and many of these injure or kill livestock everyday, but you never see stories on those!

  3. Pronghorn Avatar

    I’m not so sure how “random” the reporting is. It’s clear that the information comes from MT FWP, probably distributed in electronic news releases. And I’ll bet they send them out every time a wolf depradation occurs. If it’s a slow news day and there’s a hole to fill, it gets coverage.

    What we have to come to recognize is that MT FWP (and its counterparts in many another state) does not serve the wildlife or people of Montana. They serve other interests–the livestock industry and hunters, to name two. Hence the public relations campaign against wolves and the extermination of Yellowstone bison in Montana.

  4. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    That might be true. When Idaho newspapers suddenly started reporting wolf “depredations” this summer, it was because Idaho Fish and Game suddenly starting sending out news releases.

    The number of dead livestock had not increased, but at least some people thought it had, and it was because of the sudden ID F&G news releases.

  5. Steve Avatar

    To Rob: what’s your data source on “turtling”? I’ve never actually seen it happen. Do the sheep in your part of the world not have lanolin in their wool?

    Your point is sort of valid — weather kills way more than predators, but I’m not sure your assertions about “turtling” are accurate.

    Maybe wolf predation isn’t newsworthy, maybe it is. I don’t think MFWP is anti-wolf. Probably the best policy is to get as much information out as possible about livestock losses AND killing of wolves — that way neither pro-wolf nor pro-livestock factions can claim there’s a whitewash going on.

  6. Melissa Barton Avatar

    I agree that it’s probably a combination of press releases and “slow news days” (although the AP shouldn’t ever have slow news days).

    If wolf predation is newsworthy, coyotes, foxes, disease, and lightening strikes are as well, and I don’t often see stories about them killing sheep.

    (First I’ve heard of “turtling,” and it sounds a little bizarre to me.)

  7. Laird Bean Avatar

    True that the newspapers started reporting these conflicts only after the Idaho Fish and Game started sending out these news releases. However, these conflicts should have been reported sooner and more often then the true picture really begins to surface about the wolves and livestock depredation. One only has to look at the weekly reports posted by the USFWS to see that these conficts and depredations have been on the rise. However, that may subside considerably since the livestock owner has all but removed their livestock off of public lands and the annual hunting season is leaving injured wildlife and gut piles for the wolves. Check out the link I have included to see the number of conflicts. USFWS has nothing to hide so their weekly postings do give an indication of the number and types of conflicts. Too bad that these do not get posted in the newspapers. They should.

  8. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    Idaho Fish and Game just put out a wolf report a few minutes ago. Here it is.

    Wolf report: update

    In early October, state and federal wolf managers confirmed several livestock depredation incidents, all on grazing allotments in the Payette National Forest.

    U.S. Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services officials confirmed that eight ewes were killed, one injured – and 32 are missing – and one cow and one calf also were killed or probably killed by wolves.

    Some of the animals were moving through an area where bands of sheep are trailed on their way off the national forest.

    Idaho Fish and Game authorized the removal of three wolves, and traps were set.

    Wolf control actions, authorized by the Idaho Department of Fish and Game and carried out by the federal Wildlife Services, are in no danger of jeopardizing wolf recovery in Idaho.

    Since their reintroduction in 1995 and 1996, the wolf population in Idaho has grown to about 650 wolves, based on preliminary results of observations this year. Biologists estimated 74 packs, with at least 31 potential breeding pairs, and 176 new pups in Idaho this year. The estimated growth rate is about 20 percent.

    The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service considers the wolf recovered in the northern Rocky Mountains. Federal officials are working on a proposal to remove wolves from the endangered species list in Idaho and Montana separately from Wyoming, which would be a break from policy of considering the wolf population in all three states together.

  9. Kate Tyler Avatar
    Kate Tyler

    In regards to a sheep becoming “turtled” and more.

    Rob – am not quite sure what you mean by “turtling” but if it means a sheep is upside down and unable to get up, I know this can happen.

    From personal experience, I’ve seen sheep get turned onto their back and not be able to right themselves. This can occur even if the animal is not soaking wet.

    A sheep can simply lie down on a little incline and then tumble over, unable to get up.

    I’ve reached under a ewe that was floundering upside down and helped get her back on her feet to stand.

    Sheep need herding, tending. They cannot be left on their own.

    My ancestors came to this country as pioneers and made their living from sheep. I raised sheep as a youth.

    Sheep are not as stupid as some would believe. If they are stupid it’s because they trust in those that herd them, that are supposed to care for them. When humans who own sheep do not do this, then there are problems, losses. Predators like wolves also lose, because wolves will take advantage of a situation where there is an easy mark.

    The areas of sheep and wolf conflicts are evident. Sheep can be raised almost anywhere in the world where there is grass. Only a few places on this planet are left for wolves. Do we choose sheep or wolves?

    Maybe we don’t have to choose if more sheepmen would agree to avoid areas where wolves are denned or at rendezvous sites, and to avoid the backcountry areas where there have been on-going conflicts. Also, to invest in more guard dogs and to encourage herders (most who are from Peru and may not speak English let alone know anything about sheep) to stay vigilant. Herders need to be informed re predators inc wolvs.

  10. Elizabeth Avatar

    Bravo, Kate! Great comments.

  11. Rick Hammel Avatar
    Rick Hammel

    I have to agree with Kate; good comments. A few years ago, I was on my county’s land use board. I became interested in the wolf recovery program. I presented a wolf awareness program to the board, made up of mostly ranchers. I was told that herding sheep or cattle would not work in NW Colorado, because it would cost too much money. Many of these ranchers turn the animals out in the spring and gather them in the fall. Some of the more responsible ranchers have a couple of herders, but not enough to dissuade wolves, or coyotes, from depredating on vulnerable livestock.

    Ranchers in the recovery states are finally beginning to understand how to live with wolves. There are some, ie, Sun Ranch in the Madison Valley, MT, have led the way. These folks have herders living with the livestock and protect the animals. But there are some predations, even with the best of animal husbandry. Loss to predators is inevitable. But these losses can be minimized with good stewardship.

  12. edarrell Avatar

    Is there a requirement that ranchers with grazing permits report losses to the permitting agencies? If so, why not gather those data and publish them, monthly or so, to make sure an accurate story gets out?

    Is there another way to gather accurate data and keep it, and make it available to reporters?

    Reporters report what they know. Give them the facts.

  13. Laird Bean Avatar
    Laird Bean

    Those in favor of wolf restoration claim that the rancher/landowner gets paid by defenders of wildlife and other organizations for wolf depredations. However, what they do not understand or fail to realize is that the livestock owner does not get paid or reimbursed for the livestock that are maimed or injured but lives, which is unfortunate because in many instances the livestock are injured so they have to be doctored back to health and this can cost the owner hundreds of dollars. And most of the time the recovery of the livestock is not sufficient to get that animal back to its peak performance as before the injury so this animal has to sold at ‘butcher’ prices. It would be interesting and probably eye opening if the livestock owner reported data on every animal that was injured and lived from a wolf attack.

  14. Pronghorn Avatar

    Most ALL business owners have to take risks, and often those risks involve losses. Why should livestock operators be any different? If they are operating on public land grazing allotments, they are already heavily subsidized by taxpayers, and many of those taxpayers believe that native wildlife claim a much greater right to that public land than non-native livestock.

  15. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    It’s true not all costs associated with wolf losses are compensated, but if the loss is on public land, as Pronghorn says, the loss to predators has already been discounted by the low grazing fees paid.

    Everyone should remember this–in Idaho, due to a special appropriation, livestock growers who have kept records of their losses, and who can show they have lost more livestock than average with their herds grazing in wolf country, are eligible for compensation. No dead cow needs to be produced. It’s simply, “I lost more than usual, and here are my records to prove it.”

    A special board of county commissioners approves payments.

    In addition there are the Defenders of Wildlife payments for confirmed wolf losses, and half compensation for unproven, but likely losses.

    If you lose livestock to predators in Idaho, you are lucky if it is a wolf rather than a cougar, bear, coyote, eagle, etc. because a considerable amount, if not all as Laird Bean points out, is compensated.

  16. Laird Bean Avatar
    Laird Bean

    First, I need to clear up a couple of things. I never did say that the livestock owner is compensated a considerable amount. Infact, on a response to another thread I indicated that livestock owners have been compensated at marginal prices relative to the market value of their livestock or the value they would receive at fall prices.

    And yes, the livestock owner must take some risk for their livestock being on public lands but those risks that the livestock owner must take now with the restoration of the wolf is a risk that the livestock owner did not have any choice to accept as the restoration of the wolf was basically forced upon the livestock owner. Even those who pushed for legislation to restore the wolf knew there would be depredations. As such, pronghorn is stating that the livestock owner must accept the risks that were forced upon an industry that has been heavily subsidized by taxpayers. However, those subsidies that you are referring to did not include wolves in the equation as they were already all but removed from the western almost 50-years ago. So the wolves are basically an additional risk that were imposed by environmentalist and conservationist with no changing of the original subsidies when the wolves were first restored 10+ years ago. That is why I believe the landowner should be compensated somewhat for livestock injured by wolves. Why should the livestock owner have to pay for injuries to their livestock cause by wolves when their restoration was forced upon them?

  17. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    Just one clarification, Laird, Defenders does reimburse at fall retail prices even if it’s a spring calf that’s dead.

    Some have criticized Defenders on this score for being overly generous.

  18. Laird Bean Avatar
    Laird Bean

    I know you have said this several times before but I have also stated in previous threads that I know of several livestock owners who have only been reimburesed a marginal prices – not the fall prices you state. They probably have for some and others they have not. Apparently, not every livestock death is compensated at fall prices. Why, I do not know!

  19. Pronghorn Avatar

    What’s the AUM now? A buck-56? $1.56 per animal unit month? Man, you don’t want much, do you! (An AUM is the amount of forage needed to sustain one cow and her calf, one horse, or five sheep or goats for a month.) And that’s DOWN from $1.79 last year, so there’s your increase for wolf predation. What a racket!

    “The average fee for forage on private lands in eleven western states is $11.10 per AUM. Public lands ranchers often argue that the forage on federal lands is worth less than on private lands, as the latter are often more productive for grazing. However, the average fee for forage on state lands in the West (excluding Texas), which are generally comparable to federal lands, is $12.30 per AUM.”

  20. JimBob Avatar

    Why is it that ranchers think that because they “use” the public land they should get to dictate what shall live and what shall die there regardless of what the rest of us think? (Sounds like God, doesn’t it? Taking alot on themselves aren’t they?) Man should not have to alter the ecosystem to run his “business”. Maybe we should alter the weather, and when the sun sets and rises for them, too!

  21. Laird Bean Avatar
    Laird Bean

    Yes, the livestock owner pays a mere $1.56 per aum. This I already know and it is down from $1.79 as pronghorn notes. As you say, I do not want much. So explain to me how come you get to trample all over the public lands with your horse, or on foot, or by SUV, 4-wheeler, or whatever and do it for free? At least the livestock owner is pay something, more than you get to for trampling on public lands. And,I know that livestock owners would pay the $11.00 you speak of for public land if that is what the government was charging. And you would still complain that they are not charging the livestock owners enough. You have no more right to complain than I do because I contribute at least a little bit while by paying the $1.56 per aum while you contribute nothing to play around on the public land. In my mind, the government should charge everyone who uses public land just like the livestock owner. Are you willing to do that?

  22. Pronghorn Avatar

    It’s called “public” land because the public has paid for it (via the IRS) and owns it. Both you and I, as American citizens, have already been charged for it, if that’s how you want to look at it, and we are charged again every April 15th. But public land ranchers fence it off, drive off or slaughter the native wildlife who belong there, disrupt the native ecosystem with a non-native species, pay a mere pittance to do so, AND make money on top of all that, because YOU are using it for your private business! When I use the public land, it’s as a Leave-No-Trace hiker/backpacker. Which one of us do you suppose has the greater negative impact?

  23. Laird Bean Avatar
    Laird Bean

    It appears to me then that you should be presenting your complaints to those who made the laws that allows livestock to be on public lands. The livestock owner only abides by the laws and legislation the government has put in place and they allow them to use it for their business. They allow you to use it for play so you tear it up with your atv, suv, etc. Since the forest service/BLM made the rules then maybe you should boycott them and stay off our public lands. I know of people like you who terrorize public lands with their suvs, atvs, pack animals and yes even the outdoorsman who enjoys the outdoors leaves their trash and garbage behind, kills the sagebrush and plants and causes erosion thinking they are doing no more damage that cattle when in reality, you cause just as much but in a differnt way.

  24. edarrell Avatar

    There was a time when th mineral receipts from the public lands, alone, would have more than doubled the amount of money the federal government spends on the public lands. Why not just go for a rule that public lands receipts stay in that account?

  25. Karl Moore Avatar
    Karl Moore

    Why is it that every rancher is assumed to be one who pays a miniscule amount of money for a public lease, kills every creature on that parcel of land, overgrazes and destroys any and all natural features, makes an enormous amount of money and then complains that the government is not giving them enough money for livestock killed by a wolf who’s reintroduction was forced down their throat?

    Why is it that every non-rancher has a huge SUV that they take onto public lands every chance they get, they then put their lazy fat butt onto an ATV and go ripping through the forest at 157 kajillion miles an hour ripping up plant life and scaring all the wildlife and livestock?

    Is it possible that there are only these two groups of people in the country now? Reading any post on the internet it would be safe to make that assumption.

    I’m sure that there are very environmentally conscious ranchers our there that are reducing their profit margins in order to improve habitat for wildlife. Just like I’m sure there are people out there who’s backpacks are heavier when they leave the back country. I’m guessing that if I asked anyone who has posted a comment on this site, they would say they fit in one of these two categories. So why is it that they assume that the person they are conversing with doesn’t?

    The wolf re-introduction was not forced down anyone’s throats. All sides were given ample opportunity to argue their side of the story. In fact, if I remember right, there has never been a federal regulation/law that has recieved so much public comment during consideration or prior to publication in the federal register. But the wolves are back, now we need to figure out how to live with them.


Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University. He was a Western Watersheds Project Board Member off and on for many years, and was also its President for several years. For a long time he produced Ralph Maughan’s Wolf Report. He was a founder of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. He and Jackie Johnson Maughan wrote three editions of “Hiking Idaho.” He also wrote “Beyond the Tetons” and “Backpacking Wyoming’s Teton and Washakie Wilderness.” He created and is the administrator of The Wildlife News.

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Ralph Maughan