Ranchers south of Riding Mountain National Park fear a new headache is on the way — increased predator attacks from coyotes and wolves.
Efforts aimed at preventing bovine tuberculosis in wildlife from spreading to their cattle herds have slashed the elk population, and now a special whitetail deer season for two zones bordering the west side of the park that offers multiple, free tags to hunters threatens to drastically reduce the available food sources for the predators that prey on them.
“The predators are having their McDonald’s taken away. Now what you’re going to have is a predator problem,” said Ed Maydaniuk, who runs a small cattle and horse operation north of Rossburn, and just south of RMNP.
Rodney Checkowski, who also ranches in the area and was convicted and fined twice over disputes with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency’s TB eradication efforts, echoed Maydaniuk’s concerns.
“You’re solving one problem by creating another,” he said.
Living next to a vast reservoir of wildlife leads to all sorts of problems, he added. Ranchers in the area have been forced to muster and test their herds for bovine TB for years, and some have blamed the practice for mysterious ailments and abortions in their herds.
The ranchers voiced their concerns at a recent workshop hosted by the Livestock Predation Protection Working Group that formed last year with representatives from the provincial government, the Manitoba Trappers Association, MBP and the Manitoba Sheep Association.
Mamoon Rashid, the provincial sheep and goat specialist, offered up a host of suggestions for reducing predation losses to wolves and coyotes.
“No one tool is going to work, but a combination of things will work,” said Rashid, who added that management practices can play a major role in preventing losses.
“Some sheep producers live in the middle of coyote country and have never lost a lamb, but their next-door neighbour loses lambs every other day.”
Apart from the usual advice, such as improved fencing, night penning, and the use of various breeds of livestock guardian dogs, he suggested that ranchers under extreme pressure from predators try changing their calving dates.
By adjusting breeding schedules to see calves or lambs dropped at the same time as natural food sources for predators are abundant, or with an eye on putting stronger and more mobile calves out on pasture, herds can be made less vulnerable.
“Afterbirth attracts coyotes. Once they start coming for the afterbirth, they are going to look for better stuff, like a steak,” said Rashid, who advised strict sanitation measures, prompt disposal of deadstock, and fencing off compost piles.
Checkowski said the practice of bear baiting using cattle entrails by hunters trying to lure bears out of the park should be stopped.
Maydaniuk also spoke out against the practice. He is not against bear hunting, but he is annoyed that the bait stations bring more bears than usual into the area. Also, because hunters only want to kill the largest trophy animals, they leave the undesirable bears after the season roaming the area looking for a free lunch.
“Once the bear season is over and the bait barrels are empty, I get a bear behind my house,” said Maydaniuk.
One participant at the meeting challenged Maydaniuk’s claim, arguing that ending the practice might make the problems worse.
“Escalate? When I was a kid, I never saw a bear because the bears moved around and didn’t congregate in one place,” said Maydaniuk.
Barry Verbiwski, head of the fur-bearer and human-wildlife conflict unit of Manitoba Conservation, said that a spike in predator populations and increased compensation claims that began a few years ago led to an extension of the coyote harvesting season.
“We don’t have any fear that the wolf will become endangered in Manitoba, and certainly not the coyote,” said Verbiwski.
He noted that the smaller canine is “the most adaptable” predator in the world, and is No. 4 on his department’s list of wildlife complaints.
The coyote season in the southern half of the province has been extended year round, and any holder of a $5 fur harvesting permit can hunt or trap as many as they want.