Wolves take big bite from bottom line

There are plenty of reasons to fear the big bad wolf.

This past summer, producers in the Interlake have experienced heavy losses due to hungry wolves attacking their calves. In fact, Nick Halaburda has had so many losses in the last few years, he wrote to his MLA and to the minister of agriculture, food and rural initiatives looking for help.

The farmer said he lost 23 calves in 2005. In 2006, three were killed, and in 2007, four killed and three were wounded. He said there are likely more losses because some calves simply disappeared. Without a carcass, Manitoba Agricultural Services Corporation won’t compensate producers for losses to predators.

Barry Verbiwski, head of fur bearer and problem wildlife management for Manitoba Conservation, said while wolf populations are hard to track, it does appear that numbers have recently increased. An increase in deer populations have helped feed wolf and coyote populations. That leads to trouble for producers in areas more heavily populated with deer and wolves.

Verbiwski said district offices are the first contact when wolves cause a problem. Within limits, producers have a right to shoot a wolf that is wreaking havoc in their herd. The producer must report the kill within 10 days.

“This past year we’ve made a concerted effort in the Sylvan community pasture to remove as many wolves as we could through the Manitoba Trappers Association,” he said. About 12 wolves were removed along with some coyotes and foxes.”That program is still ongoing,” he said.

Working with MAFRI, his depar tment has also run workshops in problem areas like Gypsumville, Arborg, Ashern and Inwood.

The program focuses on animal husbandry and what producers can do to reduce predatory attacks.

The workshop covers everything from proper fencing to guard dogs. Donkeys and llamas are also employed to keep predators at bay.

While Saskatchewan has a very “aggressive” program helping to subsidize guard dogs, there is nothing like it in Manitoba yet.

He said producers with problems can call MASC, which can help identify the problem predator.

Halaburda said however, not all losses sustained can be proven.

While there is a Problem Predator Removal Program, from time to time it is inactive due to funding issues. Verbiwski said those down times don’t last long.

Producers can take training to hunt and trap wolves and other predators. The program is available through the trappers’ association. The trappers use lethal removal using humane trapping methods. There is also a hunting season on wolves which are hunted mainly for taxidermy.

“Trappers remove about 250 to 300 wolves a year,” Verbiwski said.

But numbers aren’t certain. The last survey taken 15 years ago estimated the wolf population at about 4,000.

Craig Thomson, vice-president of insurance operations for MASC said producers can make insurance claims for calves lost to predator attacks, but a carcass must be produced. If a calf is injured as a result of an attack, a vet should be called and MASC will pick up part of the bill if money is expended to try save the calf.

That doesn’t address Halaburda’s concerns about lost calves. While he and his neighbours can prove it’s a wolf problem, many suspect that is why they never find the carcass.

Halaburda also said that MASC only pays 80 per cent of the value of the animal. After a hit of 23 losses, his bottom line tumbles.

Another Gypsumville farmer, Steve Rawluk has endured four proven attacks to his herd this year and five or six more have gone missing.

One of his calves endured an attack and survived.

“He was a beautiful strong calf,” said Rawluk.

The calf’s tail was ripped off and gashes on his legs have healed to vicious scars. Rawluk said he doesn’t know what he would get at market but he’s certain it won’t be the same as if the calf was healthy. He said it’s a myth that wolves prey only the sickly animals.

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