A decade ago spotting a wolf was rare in this part of Manitoba’s Interlake.
But the one Robert Green shot last fall wasn’t skulking through the bush around their Fisher Branch-area cow-calf operation.
The animal had come right into their farmyard. It’s not the only close encounter the Greens have had with wolves lately either.
“My son actually shot one in the cow calving pen,” said Betty Green. “They will come right into the pens to try to take out a calf. In fact, that one had.”
Their veterinarian has remarked they now have the herd with the most short tails, she added. It’s believed wolf pups in training are grabbing their livestock’s tails and injuring them.
More frequent appearance of wolves also means more predation of their livestock too.
“What we’re seeing now is fewer coyote kills but a real spike in the wolf kills,” Green said.
The clincher is that these types of kills seldom leave evidence, too. Green said they lost 11 calves in 2016 but were only able to find sufficient evidence for about half in order to put in a claim for compensation for the loss through Manitoba Agricultural Services Corp.’s Wildlife Damage Compensation Program for Livestock Predation.
Darcy Hueging near Moosehorn has had similar experiences.
The young cattle producer near Spearhill has lost five calves in the past two years but could only be compensated for one. He couldn’t find carcasses — not even a trace of blood, hide or bone — for the other four, he said.
“There was nothing left,” he said. “I looked all over and spent a lot of time.”
What he did find, however, were wolf tracks — lots of them. Hueging has spotted more than his fair share of wolves these past two years too.
“The first year I moved there I saw wolves on six different times,” he said. “I’ve seen them walking right through the centre of a herd of cows and calves. They’re almost scouting it out in a way.”
Increasing wolf predation and being unable to make claims when these animals leave no trace is something Manitoba Beef Producers (MBP) has heard a lot about lately, said Ben Fox, president. It’s a matter regularly raised at monthly director meetings, alongside the frustration with no evidence meaning no compensation, said Fox.
“It seems like in the last two to five years the attacks and the stories we hear and the losses have increased exponentially,” he said.
“I’ve heard stories from newborn calves to calves grazing on pastures in summer beside their moms to yearlings and even to adult cattle being dragged down,” he said. “Losses on particular operations… they range from a half-dozen head to over 20 head. That’s the biggest one I remember hearing about.”
The matter has become so serious MBP has begun collecting reports of these circumstances and will turn this over in a formal report to Manitoba Agriculture and MASC later this spring, Fox said.
Hard to prove
The alarm producers raise is not only about what seems to be an expanding wolf population, but also being faced with predation losses that, due to the nature of the way they kill, leave the producer ineligible for compensation.
MASC’s Wildlife Damage Compensation Program for Livestock Predation will compensate up to 90 per cent of the calculated loss of an animal so long as certain criteria are met, including producing sufficient evidence to prove a predator. No carcass means insufficient evidence and no payment can be issued.
“A wolf attack leaves no evidence,” said Fox. “It’s very seldom that you find a piece of the animal left.”
It’s a difficult and frustrating scenario for the producer, he added.
“Not having any proof to show losing them takes an economic toll but it also takes an emotional toll on the producers,” he said.
According to MASC officials the total number of payable predation claims has remained relatively consistent over the past five years. In 2016 there were 1,842 payable claims through the program and of these 354 a wolf was identified as the predator. Wolf-specific predation claims also remain relatively consistent going back to 2012.
MASC manager of claim services David Koroscil said they realize producers may not report an incident because of this lack of evidence of a kill.
“So we’re definitely seeing a steady number of predation kills for sure, but it’s these extra ones where we can’t confirm that a kill occurred.”
Producers work with the Manitoba Trappers Association (MTA) to administer the Problem Predator Removal Program for the Province of Manitoba. Through the program, the MTA provides professional trapper assistance to livestock producers that are experiencing livestock depredation.
But the wolves keep coming, Green said, adding what’s worrisome is not just the more frequent appearance but the growing confidence of these animals in and around human populations.
“One of the things that we’re noticing that alarm us a little bit would be the interaction we’re having with wolves,” she said. “For years even if we knew there were wolves in the area you’d never see them. Now we see them regularly.”
No one from the province was available for comment about the wolf population but a department spokesman did note that the population estimate for wolves is considered stable at about 4,000 animals.
Fox and others say they think wolves are showing up where they weren’t before because they’re on the move into new territory as moose, elk and deer populations decline.
“That sure could lend itself to predators having to go to find other sources of food,” said Fox.