Reports of Record Wolf Depredations Based on Misinformation

Photo IDFG

By Scott Lake, Idaho Director

Western Watersheds Project


The Idaho Rangeland Resource Commission has been claiming that wolves killed a record number of livestock last year. But that’s misleading, because Wildlife Services, the secretive federal agency in charge of killing wolves in Idaho, is using a new method to verify wolf kills that is inaccurate and overbroad.

Specifically, Idaho Wildlife Services now maintains that it can confirm a wolf kill even where there is no evidence of predation, injury, or struggle. Last fall, Wildlife Services began claiming that cattle killed by wolves “often show no signs of a wolf attack,” and encouraged ranchers to report all livestock deaths in an effort to confirm more wolf depredations. The agency now asserts that livestock can die from “myopathy”—a form of muscle weakness caused by overexertion or stress—hours or even days after an encounter with wolves.

Naturally, the number of confirmed wolf kills has risen. But there is absolutely no basis in science or policy for the agency’s new overbroad criteria. In fact, the new criteria directly contradict Wildlife Services’ own investigation protocols, which require direct evidence of predation such as “bite marks,” “tissue damage,” or signs of a struggle.  

The number of livestock deaths from wolf predation remains far lower than deaths from other causes, such as disease, starvation, and vehicle impacts. Idaho Wildlife Services, moreover, has a documented history of misidentifying wolf depredations. With these dubious and untested new methods, Wildlife Services is likely misidentifying even more non-predator mortalities as wolf kills.

Wildlife Services also refuses to make its investigation data public. Western Watersheds Project, a Hailey-based conservation group, requested Wildlife Services’ livestock mortality investigation data in January, but after months of follow-up requests—during which the agency remained completely unresponsive—Western Watersheds was forced to file suit last week under the Freedom of Information Act to recover the data. The lawsuit is currently proceeding in the Federal District Court for the District of Idaho.

Meanwhile, new studies—alongside with Wildlife Services’ public statements—suggest that the agency cares more about killing wolves than protecting livestock. In November, for instance, Wildlife Services claimed it needed  “additional data” to take to the State of Idaho “to ease the restrictions it faces on wolf removal.” In other words, the agency wanted to kill more wolves and went fishing for data to justify a decision it had already made. Wildlife Services’ single-minded focus on killing more wolves means that it continues to ignore the abundant evidence favoring non-lethal predator control methods over the agency’s antiquated killing programs.

Scientists now agree that non-lethal methods are equally effective—and in some cases more effective—than lethal control. Peer-reviewed studies conducted in Idaho’s Wood River Valley, for example, found that non-lethal methods significantly reduced livestock losses compared to lethal control. In some cases, lethal control may even increase the number of livestock depredations in an area by disrupting social structures within a wolf pack and forcing the animals to change their customary hunting practices, which usually target wild, native prey.

Lethal control is also also expensive, with taxpayers and sportsmen shouldering most of the financial burden. In Idaho, for instance, Wildlife Services spends about $8,000 per wolf killed, and the State spends $400,000 annually on the Idaho Wolf Depredation Control Board. Wildlife Services’ unsubstantiated claims about myopathy—which are now being adopted and spread by the livestock industry and the Idaho Rangeland Resources Commission—could mean that costs to Idaho taxpayers will increase significantly.

All of this flies in the face of responsible wildlife management. Wildlife Services’ uninformed and irresponsible rhetoric will only encourage conflict between wildlife advocates and ranchers, and keep Idaho’s wildlife policy mired in frontier-era myths about predators and livestock.  Simply put, Wildlife Services and its supporters in State government seem to care more about stoking fear of wolves, and finding new justifications for killing them, than they do about preventing actual livestock losses.

If Wildlife Services really cared about saving livestock, it would promote non-lethal control as a more effective and affordable alternative to the current program.  And if the livestock industry was—as it always claims to be—a good steward of the State’s natural resources, it would stop spreading unsubstantiated propaganda that only hinders science-based efforts to protect and coexist with Idaho’s native wildlife.  






  1. Ida Lupine Avatar
    Ida Lupine

    How predictable. 🙁

  2. John Soine Avatar
    John Soine

    The use of range riders and fladry here in Arizona confirm your comments regarding non lethal vs lethal means of controlling Mexican Gray Wolves. Hasn’t had any effect on AZ Game and Fish releasing more to the wild though.

  3. Carter Niemeyer Avatar
    Carter Niemeyer

    To the best of my knowledge, myopathy is not a condition that Wildlife Services personnel would be capable of diagnosing in the field. In fact, the condition occurs in tissue that would require “tissue sampling”, storage and laboratory analysis. I would challenge any Wildlife Services trapper to eyeball a dead livestock carcass and prove, let alone confirm, that the animal died from myopathy especially relating it to wolves.Laboratory tests would not be timely or cheap either. In the meantime, does the agency kill the wolves first and look at lab tests later?

    1. Nancy Avatar

      “The agency now asserts that livestock can die from “myopathy”—a form of muscle weakness caused by overexertion or stress—hours or even days after an encounter with wolves”

      And how much of that muscle weakness (caused by overexertion/stress) might just be caused by trucking cattle into public land grazing allotments? (perhaps not showing up for days?) Or say a 10-15 mile “hike” on paved roads to public lands, after being restricted for months,in small pastures, during the long winter months?

      Recall a couple of years ago, working next to a ranch that trucked their cows in for the spring/summer & fall (no cows there for the winter) and out of the 8-10 cows I saw wandering around, who had just arrived, 3 of them were lame.

      Even with 4 legs, its no picnic for a cow (or a cow with a young calf) to be herded on to a double decker, cattle truck and then driven sometimes 100 miles or more, to a public land allotment.

      “There’s never been any consideration that we’re hauling a living, breathing commodity,” Hilker says of the Obama-era mandate, which has been phased in for the general trucking industry since December. “…

      Can also recall being right next to Rose’s Cantina in Jackson (Elk, you know the place 🙂 and cattle truck drivers would stop for a leisurely hour lunch break (often more if you ran into a neighbor or friend) while their load (cattle) sat in 90 degree temps.

      The comment “There’s never been any consideration that we’re hauling a living, breathing commodity,” is certainly debatable, especially when it comes down to realizing the cargo being “hauled” often long distances, is more than just a “commodity”

      1. Ida Lupine Avatar
        Ida Lupine

        Terrible. 🙁

      2. Diane Spiecker Avatar
        Diane Spiecker

        Well said…your words need to be sent to more places and people so this terrible system of assuming the cattle died of this will be extinct. I just do not understand how people can get away with everything that goes on. Two words perhaps….money and politics.

  4. Bruce Bowen Avatar
    Bruce Bowen

    The effectiveness of animal damage control is rather a secondary consideration. The ADC now called wildlife services I guess, wants to keep the animal body count up to keep their budget up. During the early 1980’s I witnessed the ADC’s bureaucratic senselessness when they wanted to include about 65,000 acres of BLM land in their control area. They attempted to justify this request because they found a calve carcass(very much decomposed) that might have been killed by a coyote and because a skunk killed a couple chickens on private land adjoining public land. Ironically, the BLM denied their request not because there were endangered species on public land, but because BLM managers feared lawsuits from public land users that might get injured or lose a dog when hunting. These people are ruthless and morally corrupt, but such is the entrenched capitalistic system.

    Montana’s democratic senator recently introduced legislation to reduce rules and regulations on livestock hauling. It seems that the old guard utilitarian attitudes are being reintroduced at the expense of animals whether they are predators or livestock.

    1. Ida Lupine Avatar
      Ida Lupine

      It’s scary to see this backtslide. 🙁

      I’ve wondered also if it to keep their budget up and jobs.

  5. N Mccormish Avatar
    N Mccormish

    Myopathy can also be caused by genetic disorders or dehydration, especially in species not native to western ecosystems and therefore less adapted. Plenty of newcomers to public lands grazing have bought the wrong cattle and lost many as a result, mostly from them being unable to deal with high altitudes. Any animals exhibiting these symptoms would be more attractive to predators, too. So if a carcass is found days after death and has been significantly scavenged, it is as likely they were eaten after death as attacked as weak and killed by predators.

    “Some affected animals develop edema in the neck and brisket. Swelling may spread to the jaws, or along the belly. Often, you don’t see symptoms; you just find the animal dead.”

    “Affected animals may develop problems early in life, or shortly after being brought to high elevation from lower altitudes, Holt says. Cattle with brisket disease are often lethargic, while other signs may include weakness, diarrhea, bulging eyes and difficult breathing. If cattle are trailed very far, those with brisket disease lag or lie down due to shortness of breath.”

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