Manitoba Beef Producers needs members to put some numbers to what they say is the impact predators are having on the provincial beef herd.
They repeatedly hear about losses and producers now make impassioned pleas to have something done about the pressure on herds, particularly from wolf attacks, general manager Brian Lemon told district meetings which began last week.
“It’s a very serious threat to livestock producers’ livelihoods. I don’t think there’s a bigger file on our board or issue that’s more important or that trumps predation,” he said at the District 9 meeting at Stonewall last week.
The problem is defining the scope of it.
Directors raise the issue at all board meetings, and MBP talks about it at every meeting they get with the provincial ministers of agriculture and sustainable development, Lemon said.
But then they’re asked the question they can’t answer.
“They’re asking us, ‘how big is the problem?” he said. “Our answer right now is, ‘we don’t really know.’”
Directors have gathered plenty of information through phone calls and conversations. “But it still ends up being fairly anecdotal and not statistically valid. That’s the problem we have.”
They’ve tried to work with Manitoba Agricultural Services Corporation (MASC) but their data isn’t capturing the full picture either. MASC’s Wildlife Damage Compensation Program only compensates producers who can provide sufficient evidence of a predator kill.
What’s so frustrating for producers is being unable to make claims because wolf kills seldom leave carcasses. There’s no evidence to make the claim.
“It’s not until you go to collect your cows in the fall that you find out you’re missing a bunch,” he said.
The survey MBP is circulating at all district meetings this fall asks producers to provide information on herd size, numbers of cattle lost to wolves, coyotes and other predators, to report maulings and injuries, and document numbers also lost to theft or hunters. There’s also a box to tick off if there are no cattle losses to report.
The aim is to gather the grassroots data together so MBP can make a better case that the provincial beef here is under pressure from predators, Lemon said.
There’s a lot of debate going on as to why predation from wolves is on the rise, but the general feeling is they’re going after cattle as moose and whitetail deer populations decline.
Dealing with the issue is going to be a sensitive subject, however.
Beef producers don’t want to impair their reputation as managers of both Crown and private lands in ways that are beneficial for wildlife. Beef producers are widely recognized by conservation groups and the public as the agricultural sector doing the most to support biodiversity. The dilemma will be finding a way to make it understood that the wildlife their farm systems otherwise support is, at this point in time, creating a threat to people’s livelihoods and it’s a problem that needs a solution,
“It’s going to be a delicate thing to talk about,” Lemon said.
That’s part of the task ahead for the Livestock Predation Working Group which will be looking at what other provinces are doing to deal with problem predators.
Beef producers currently call on professional trappers with the Manitoba Trappers Association (MTA) to remove problem predators, but in actuality few are available to go out anymore because pelt prices are so low.
“We need to inject some incentive into this whole program,” Lemon said.
For now, the main thing producers themselves can do is fill out the survey and give MBP the data it needs to quantify the problem and reinforce the seriousness of the situation.
“The more you can do to help us with that data the better off we’re going to be.”