Steve McLaughlin

Steve McLaughlin

How long could you afford to lose 20% of your annual income, while at the same time working longer hours trying to mitigate your losses? Not long.

Ranchers in Washington face this situation because of the reintroduction of wolves. Ranchers and rural communities are living with the reality of this reintroduction, which has been all decided by people who are not impacted by living and working in wolf country.

The reality of economic impacts of wolf depredations is destroying livelihoods and community lifestyles. Cattle killed by wolves during the 2018 grazing season was the worst season since wolves returned to Washington in 2008, and 2019 is trending to be worse yet.

Wolf depredations have far deeper implications than simply loss of a few cattle. Year to year, cattle industry breeding success rate is 95%. No matter the size herd, with wolf harassment and depredations, the breeding rate of the herd is diminished from 95% to 75 to 82%. For example, of a herd of 200 breeding cows, the expected industry calf birth rate is 190. Cows not achieving pregnancy are considered “open cows.” The probability of an open cow’s future breeding is low and considered unprofitable. Ranchers depend on their cattle to reproduce each year for 11 years. Each open cow represents a loss of up to 11 years of projected income. Using current market value, this loss is as high as $12,500 in future loss per “open cow.”

A 5% open cow rate on average is expected. But it is potentially devastating when a herd suffers “wolf stress” and the breeding loss rises to 20%. This means only 159 calves are born versus the 190 yield expected. Combining the loss of lower birth rate with the increase of the open cow rate, this example represents a bottom line loss total of $61,250 per year, per rancher.

Moreover, “open cows” must be replaced to maintain production numbers. On average, $1,000 and a two year investment per heifer represents time and money spent without certainty the replacement heifer will breed. The cost of raising and feeding replacement heifers must also be incorporated into the ranch loss from wolf depredation and harassment.

Wages paid on reacting to herd harassment, infrastructure repairs, and costs of ineffective non-lethal deterrents all add to the costs caused by reintroduced wolf presence. These losses can drive ranches out of business in a short period of time. Ranchers who experience ongoing loss face hard decisions of deep cost cuts and suffer many sacrifices. Eventually, the rancher may be required to lay off employees, affecting unemployment rates, tax base and personal spending in the community.

Economic losses stemming from decreased hunting and game-viewing opportunities is reducing sporting goods sales, hunting, hotel and restaurant profits.

In 2019, the Colville Confederated Tribal Fish & Wildlife Department declared the northern one-half of its traditional hunting areas as a game desert, largely attributed to wolves. To remedy this situation, the tribes authorized year round/no-limit wolf hunting/trapping as many members rely on game for their diet.

To ranchers, the economic consequences from wolf reintroduction is staggering.

The time has come to de-list wolves and implement control measures to ease the burdens on ranchers instead of waiting for the people who caused the problem, to fix the problem.

Steve McLaughlin of Seabeck, Wash., works for several ranches in northeast Washington collecting loss data and bringing a voice to ranching families in wolf-saturated areas. He is also part of a global network of scientists, range specialists and policy makers who educate the public about wolves.

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