Saturday, May 19, 2012

Montana Livestock Loss Board hears wolf concerns in Hamilton

By PERRY BACKUS Ravalli Republic | Posted: Friday, May 18, 20

HAMILTON – The state of Montana’s Livestock Loss Board came to Hamilton Friday to hear from people with concerns about wolves.

They got an earful.

Stevensville area rancher Carl Baldwin has never lost a cow to wolves, but elk have certainly given him plenty to complain about since the predators showed up on the scene.

Instead of leaving his ranchlands at the base of St. Mary Peak in late spring, Baldwin said the elk now stay in the lowlands and do considerable damage to his fence lines because they are constantly on the move.

He blames wolves for the elks’ change in migration patterns.

Paul Rossignol of Lolo said the reintroduction of wolves costs him $3,000 to $5,000 a year because he can no longer find a rancher willing to put cows on pastureland he owns near Lolo Pass.
“No one will lease that property anymore because of wolves,” Rossignol said.

But Stevensville’s Marc Cooke urged the board to look for ways to maintain ranching traditions and coexist with wolves.

“Many people in Ravalli County and the Bitterroot Valley are not opposed to wolves and actually support them,” Cooke said. “Livestock losses are very low and there are some ranchers who are interested in applying preventative tools to reduce losses to wolves from happening in the first place.”

Friday’s meeting was the third time the Livestock Loss Board has held its regular meeting in a community outside of Helena. The board administers compensation payments to livestock producers who lose animals to wolves.

Its members hope that someday the board will also be able to offer funds to livestock producers to pay for prevention methods and is preparing legislation that could make that happen.

Bitterroot rancher Larry Trexler serves on the board. He told the dozen people at the listening session the board has fielded complaints that wolves are impacting livestock operations in ways that can’t be compensated, like weight loss, open cows and elk herds staying put on hay meadows.

“There is no money right now to address those issues,” Trexler said.

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A local sportsman and outfitter asked the board to take a stand on wolf target numbers and Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks’ proposed wolf season.

Darby outfitter Scott Boulanger asked the board to push for reducing wolf numbers back to the original target set for delisting of 15 packs and 150 wolves.

“Right now, we have more wolves in the Bitterroot Valley than we need in the whole state to stay off the list,” Boulanger said.

Keith Kubista, president of Montana Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife wanted the board to ask FWP to include a number of changes to its wolf hunting proposal to help increase the wolf harvest next fall.

Those changes included allowing snaring during a trapping season, reducing out-of-state wolf license fees, extending the length of wolf-hunting season, doing away with a waiting period to buy a license and throwing out any arbitrary target numbers.

Ravalli County Commissioner Suzy Foss told the board the main challenge for people living in the Bitterroot Valley is the close proximity of wolves to their homes.

Foss said the commission has received reports of wolves killing dogs in people’s yards and sightings near different communities. With wolves’ prey being pushed into populated areas, Foss said there is an issue of safety.
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