SE Montana blizzard kills far more livestock in 2 days than Montana wolves in a year

Of course wolf “depredations” are somehow special. Will the blizzard story last more than a couple days?

Calf losses said to be in the thousands with reports still coming in.

For comparison, cattle losses to wolves in Montana in 2008 totaled just 77 dead with a couple dozen more “probables.”

I bring this up because I participated in a forum about wolves last night at Idaho State University. Several panel participants and folks in the audience tried to convince us that that 96 cattle lost in in Idaho in 2008 was some kind of big deal. We kept saying “no,” the big deal was weather, disease, poison plants, rustling. etc.

Story: Ranchers count up losses to weather. Snow in Montana’s southeast hit during calving, lambing. By Lorna Thackeray. Of The Gazette Staff

April 25. Update: As I predicted, this story didn’t last. Do a web search in news, it is already hard to find the story.






  1. jimbob Avatar

    Who will pay for the livestock men’s losses? The cost of doing business? OOPS. I don’t think so….they will probably get some type of bailout. It is so ironic that “the wolves must be killed” because the livestock operators MIGHT possibly lose money by POSSIBLY losing a cow to a POSSIBLE wolf pack. Who do they blame for the weather? Damn mother nature!

  2. Ken Cole Avatar

    I’m sure there will be some kind of disaster declared. Make the losses public, privatize the profits.

  3. Devin Avatar

    Ralph, you guys did a fantastic job last night! It was nice to see you guys take a stand against the hard headedness out there….”Wolves are just like pedophiles.” ????????

    Its pathetic how much power the ranching interests have in the three state region. We all see the world through our own lenses but I think that some ranchers are seeing it through beer goggles.

    Thanks Devin. It was kind of odd though because that guy came up afterwards and was fairly friendly. Ralph

  4. Ryan Avatar

    WTF Jim and Ken, every time there is a major weather related disaster the fed’s dole out money to most of the affected groups, why is this any different? There are literally trillions of dollars flowing out of the goverment coffers to battle the economic disaster going on right now. Its evil if its for farmers or ranchers, but fine for renewable energy sources etc?

  5. ProWolf in WY Avatar
    ProWolf in WY

    Jimbob, that is a really good point. It is a lot of ifs mights and maybes in these cases.

    And Devin, like you said it is pathetic how much influence the ranching interests have. Any politician who had the cajones to stand up to them would get my vote.

  6. Debra K Avatar
    Debra K

    Like it’s a surprise that Eastern Montana can get blizzards in late March or early April? These ranchers are trying to raise cattle and sheep in a climate and landscape for which they didn’t evolve. Akin to trying to grow bananas in Alaska.

    Why should taxpayers bail these ranchers out for their poor business decision to raise livestock in one of the harshest climates in the lower 48?

  7. kt Avatar

    Yeah, isn’t there a critter that is adapted to that weather? … Bison. Get rid of the cows and sheep … take out the fences …

  8. JEFF E Avatar
    JEFF E

    Sooner or later someone will blame those evil Canadian Weather forecasters

  9. Jay Avatar

    Actually Debra, they’re just trying to “cheat” a little bit and have their calves earlier so they have more time to put on weight and go to market in the fall just that much heavier. However, as this proves, that’s a gamble sometimes. There is a reason deer and elk have their fawns/calves in Late May/June, and its a lesson the ranchers (most, anyways) have yet to learn.

  10. Ralph Maughan Avatar


    Very good point! In Idaho they have started calving as early as late December !! The Buffalo Ridge wolf pack was wiped out by Wildfire Services because they scavenged and probably killed some of the terribly weak December calves.

    You are right about the goal — to get extra weight before fall. They figure that way they will get even more from their $1.35 AUM public grazing allotment and the extra pounds will offset the extra mortality. If there is a big snowstorm, Uncle Sam will be there with disaster payments.
    – – – –
    In fact, a sidebar to the original story read, “Disaster aid may be forthcoming. U.S. Department of Agriculture may provide relief for ranchers with heavy losses.

    Powder River and Carter counties have asked Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer to assist them in obtaining a disaster declaration from the secretary of agriculture.”

  11. Salle Avatar

    Like I’ve said before; there is no accountability for poor practices, except by nature itself. there is no job performance reviews for ranchers, only the public taxpayer fed dole the receive for continually “blowing it”. Which only encourages them to never change their ways to a more practicable manner of doing their business. Any other livelihood would suffer complete failure since they don’t enjoy the subsidized rewards of continuous failures these welfare kings enjoy.

    And don’t give me any rubbish about how the world needs the cattle industry to feed the world. That’s all propaganda to justify this absurd practice. Most humans don’t require beef and many cultures have lived without it for thousands of years. In fact, I don’t recall any human life-forms that actually requires beef for survival.

    If you don’t have a big enough yard for your animals that you keep, you shouldn’t have so many animals and shouldn’t demand that the rest of the public to support them for you. Kind of brings the “octomom” to mind.

  12. ProWolf in WY Avatar
    ProWolf in WY

    I agree that bison would be a good way to go. As I understand they are much more low-maintenance than cows. They could also fight off predators pretty effectively. Plus bison meat is healthier.

  13. Brian Ertz Avatar

    The way I heard it, the buffalo ridge pack got wiped out for those December calves – but that there are photos of winter- killed calves being dumped into a ditch and left for who-knows how long – to the wolves.

    Also, at the panel Ralph and I attended, we got a question from a disgruntled rancher or ranch-hand (I don’t know which) saying that the wolves took his stock because he came up several animals short on his allotment at roundup. This is what we refer to as the “Columbus” method of management – these guys put their cattle on our public land in the spring/summer, then “discover” them come fall roundup – if they’re short, musta been wolves. He then thanked Defenders for the compensation but was still clearly intolerant of wolves.

    I don’t know about anyone else, but for all the sob-stories about the supreme importance of these guys’ livelihood, custom and culture that get shot at wolves, environmentalists, etc. And successfully hit the media and government – when it comes time to properly manage their animals a lot of the behavior suggests that so many just don’t take it that seriously themselves. That don’t have the romantic tone to make it in the paper though.

  14. ProWolf in WY Avatar
    ProWolf in WY

    They don’t take their livelihood too seriously because Uncle Sam will bail them out. Since wolves are an easy scapegoat, all they have to do is come whining to Fish and Game and Wildlife Services will go shoot a few wolves or coyotes and then they will be happy. Leaving carcasses out should void any sort of compensation and visit by wildlife services. That is like going scuba diving with dead fish strapped on you and then wanting sharks killed for attacking.

  15. Barb Avatar

    “Beef! It’s what’s NOT for dinner!”

  16. Rusty Avatar

    Maybe the ranchers can get the government to build a giant dome over the west to protect the cows from the weather. I probably shouldn’t joke about it, I’m sure some State Rep is already working on the bill. It was probably that Canadian weather that did it because the weather was never like this before.

  17. Paul Bego Avatar
    Paul Bego

    I agree that 96 head of cattle lost to wolves in ID is quite small and low percentage compared to the other ways they die off. I’m curious though about what the approx. total head count of livestock & Sheep is in ID, MT & WYO? Of course this number would fluctuate season to season, etc. but …..

  18. Peter Kiermeir Avatar

    I am a bit disappointed with the response to this article in the Gazette´s comment section. There are 45 comments and you have to scroll all the way down to comment no. 31 until finally you are rewarded with the “serial killing wolves” that because of their presence only (quote) “make that cattle are stressed to a point they do not breed back for the following year”. This one is from an hitherto unknown poster, but where is Marion?

  19. jimbob Avatar

    You know Ryan, that’s a good point. Since most losses of livestock occur due to dangers other than wolves, livestock raisers should be aware that the majority of the public (I think) would be in favor of loss payments IF THEY WEREN”T DESTROYING EVERY PIECE OF OUR NATURAL ENVIRONMENT by killing predators and wrecking ecosystems with their eating machines! The message to ranchers should be leave the predators alone, leave the ecosystem healthy, build goodwill and get public acceptance. Those few cow losses to wolves aren’t worth a loss of respect from the public. However, the current system builds the status quo adversarial relationship between livestock organizations and the government, which only helps those organizations get money and be successful. They can’t lobby against weather!

  20. Ryan Avatar


    The Majority of the public has no F’n clue whats going on in the west. Your message you want to send will have 0 traction because no one has a clue what really happens out there. Ranchers on this site are viewed as a bane in many cases, but to the unedcuated masses they are an Icon of the west.

  21. ProWolf in WY Avatar
    ProWolf in WY

    “make that cattle are stressed to a point they do not breed back for the following year”.

    Then shouldn’t cattle be a lot less common than they are?

  22. Ken Fischman, Ph.D. Avatar
    Ken Fischman, Ph.D.

    Nice job Ralph. News stories like the one about the storm losses help put wolf depredation into a perspective that reasonable people can understand.
    Someone mentioned Sen. Tester’s “Wolf Kill Bill.”
    The following is a letter I sent to The Bonner Daily Bee about that:
    The March 31 issue of the Bee carried an article on the so-called “Wolf Kill Bill,” which provides money to ranchers to compensate them for livestock killed by wolves.
    Perceptive readers might have noticed that only one million dollars/year were provided for this purpose. In these days of billion dollar bank bailouts, that is chump change, probably not enough to buy a Lake Penderay McMansion.
    Little money was needed because wolves cause almost infinitesimal damage to livestock. You do not have to take my word for it, just read what the Agricultural Statistics Board of the USDA (2004) had to say.
    “In any given year, coyotes kill far more sheep than wolves.”
    The numbers themselves reveal how wrong perceptions of wolf livestock predation are. According to Idaho Fish & Game’s (IDF&G) Wolf Population Management Plan (2008), there were 8,100 sheep killed by predators in Idaho in 2004. Coyotes killed 7,100 of them. Other predators combined, including mountain lions, bears, wolves, and raptors, accounted for 1,000 sheep.
    IDF&G states that wolves killed 170 sheep in 2007. Because the wolf population was smaller four years earlier, I think it is safe to say that the wolf depredations back then were similar or smaller.
    In 2006, livestock depredation in our neighbor, Montana, was 12,000, out of which only 200 (1.6% of the total) were killed by wolves.
    The next time you hear some rancher carrying on about how wolves have devastated Idaho’s livestock, remember these numbers and the paltry amount put aside in the “Wolf Kill Bill” for compensation.

  23. Brian Ertz Avatar

    Check this out :

    AP article :

    North Dakota had record snowfall last winter and record flooding this spring. State and federal officials estimate that 91,000 cattle have died, including the 72,000 calves, and the calving season is only about 80 percent finished. Wet, muddy conditions can lead to sickness and death of the animals.

    Emphasis added

  24. JB Avatar

    Great find, Brian! I wonder if those folks will be compensated? Whatever the case, you can certainly bet that their will be far less pissing and moaning in the Dakotas than there is in the West. The sense of entitlement in the West is extraordinary.

  25. ProWolf in WY Avatar
    ProWolf in WY

    You are certainly right on that one JB. Those states hardly ever make news like this.

  26. Ben Singer Avatar
    Ben Singer

    Shoot, Shovel, Shutup.

  27. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    Ben Singer wrote,

    “Shoot, Shovel, Shutup.”

    My response is, “Yes, Ben. That seems to be exactly what the storm ravaged livestock owners are doing and the media is completely silent about it.”

  28. Layton Avatar

    Gosh, I missed this tender little exchange of sentiments while I was gone for a while.

    Amazing!! Ranchers that get bailed out because federally introduced wolves eat their stock get bitched about like gang busters. Didn’t see anything about the feds paying for any of the storm caused damages tho’– did I miss that?? Or maybe they just didn’t think to ask Uncle Sugar.

    Seems to me that I remember something a ways back in time where THOUSANDS of people were given money, credit cards, food, a place to live (evidently forever), etc. when a storm (Katrina something or other??) came along and wiped out the place where they lived.

    Never mind that they had been living in a place, protected by dikes, below sea level, with a history of hurricanes.

    Oh yeah, it also seems to me that I remember the feds are building the place back again!! Nice that they rebuilt the dikes too!! Maybe we can pay for it all AGAIN in the next few years. BUT — it’s OK, it’s traditional that they live there!!

  29. Jay Avatar

    Ben, my guess is you’re the type that’s too stupid to follow the 3rd ‘S’.

  30. Ralph Maughan Avatar


    Here is the entire point of the post (as I intended) it.

    This from Brian Ertz

    “North Dakota had record snowfall last winter and record flooding this spring. State and federal officials estimate that 91,000 cattle have died, including the 72,000 calves, and the calving season is only about 80 percent finished. Wet, muddy conditions can lead to sickness and death of the animals.”

    Over 90,000 dead cattle, and it’s a one day story, but stories about 20 sheep killed by a couple wolves go on and on!!

    I’m not interested in a discussion about who got the best disaster aid — ranchers or victims of Katrina.


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