BEMIDJI -- More than 50 people, most of them ranchers and farmers, gathered in Bemidji on Thursday to hear how the government can compensate them when their cattle are killed by predators, mainly wolves.
The Minnesota Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Department of Agriculture Farm Service Agency hosted the town hall meeting to explain state and federal programs that reimburse livestock losses due to wolves, avian raptors and weather.
The meeting room inside the Countryside Restaurant west of town on U.S. Highway 2 was so cramped with interested people that at some points of the talk, attendees were forced to stand outside the room and watch through a doorway. U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson and several state legislators attended a similar meeting earlier Thursday in Roseau.
In December, a federal court ruling required gray wolves, also known as a timberwolves, be placed back on the endangered species list. Again afforded protections guaranteed by the Endangered Species Act, the ruling makes it illegal to kill the wolves unless a human is in immediate danger.
Normally, the MNDA compensates livestock producers for damage caused by wolves following an investigation by a Department of Natural Resources official. However, the money used for that compensation was tapped out in 2014.
In 2012 and 2013, the department was appropriated $150,000 per year by the Legislature to the fund for elk and wolf damage claims. For 2014 and 2015, that appropriation decreased to $100,000 per year. The total value of wolf claims in 2014 exceeded funding by about $9,000.
Charlie Poster, an assistant commissioner with the state ag department, said Thursday that was due an increase both in the volume of attack claims and in the value of each farm animal killed.
“Claims are kind of at the high end of what they’ve been the past 20 years… but the value of the animals has been so much higher than has been over the past 20 years, it’s depleted the fund,” he said.
Poster said Gov. Mark Dayton intends to double the amount of money to $400,000 in the compensation program over the next biennium.
In addition to MNDA’s compensation program, there’s a new federal compensation program implemented under the 2014 Farm Bill that gives out payments for attacks by legally protected predators, as well as extreme weather events. The Livestock Indemnity Program, or LIP, generally gives out less money per head of cattle than the state-level program but there’s more leeway with reporting requirements. For example, the Minnesota program requires a rancher to notify authorities within 48 hours of a kill, but under LIP, the rancher can wait up to 30 days.
The program is administered through the local offices of the USDA’s Farm Service Agency. Ranchers can’t “double dip,” and get full compensation for the same incident from both the USDA and the MNDA. However, officials advised them to file for both anyway in order to maximize chances to get a claim awarded.
Rancher James E. Johnson of Gonvick, Minn., said his beef herd has sustained multiple attacks from wolves or coyotes. In some cases, the predators have gone after calves being born -- ripping out the organs of the mother and causing her to die by hemorrhage as well. He’s worried about coyotes and coyote-wolf hybrids, whose attacks aren’t eligible for compensation. He’s also upset with what he sees as government red tape. “I don’t even have time to be here now,” he said of the town hall. “You gotta go through all this rigmarole, it’s frustrating.”
The 2013 Minnesota wolf population was estimated to be 2,211 animals — 700 less wolves than in 2007, according to the DNR’s annual wolf survey for 2013.
This report included information from the Grand Forks Herald.