Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Columbia County farmer loses calf to rare wolf prey

John A. Stevenson cried “wolf,” and the Columbia County Board’s Agriculture and Land and Water Conservation Committee heeded.
There wasn’t anything that the committee could do about the wolf attack last week that cost Stevenson — a county supervisor and a committee member — one of his dairy calves. That’s a job for state and federal agriculture and wildlife officials.
Stevenson said this is the first time that a wolf has killed one of his calves, in decades of farming in the town of Arlington.
And Kurt Calkins, the county’s Land and Water Conservation Department director, said wolf predation of Columbia County livestock is rare, but not unheard of.
This is the time of year, Calkins said, when young wild animals are striking out on their own, including not only wolves, but also bears. When the animals search for territory of their own, they tend to follow riverways, which is why they sometimes turn up in Columbia County.
According to Stevenson, the attack was discovered on Tuesday of last week.
There was a herd of cattle, of varying ages, outdoors, and the wolf apparently preyed on a calf that was asleep or otherwise unable to get away. The herd of cattle chased the wolf away, and the wolf only ate a little of the dead calf’s meat.
Stevenson said officials called to the scene of the attack confirmed it was a wolf and not another canine species such as a dog or coyote, largely because the animal attacked the calf’s neck, as wolves are prone to do, whereas dogs and coyotes tend to attack from behind.
Dan Hirchert, state director of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s wildlife service, said wolves are all over Wisconsin, but their population is concentrated in the northern third of the state and the central forest region.
The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, which keeps track of wolf predation, has no other records of other such incidents on Columbia County farms this year, Hirchert said.
Although the wolf could be part of a pack that wildlife officials don’t know about, what’s more likely is that it is a yearling wolf whose mother has recently evicted it after the mother bore a new litter.

When that happens, the young animals strike out on their own in search of food and mates — and, as Calkins observed, they often follow rivers, according to Hirchert. “This is the time of the year when yearlings venture out on their own,” he said.

In all likelihood, the wolf attack on Stevenson’s cattle herd was an isolated incident, and other Columbia County livestock (or pets) are in any particular danger, Hirchert said.
But if a farmer has a wolf problem, he said, the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service can suggest a variety of ways to discourage wolves from coming near livestock, such as lights and noise-making devices.
Wolves are on the federal endangered species list, and cannot be killed, he said.
Stevenson said he will go through APHIS to apply for compensation for the calf that the wolf killed.