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Trends and Management of Wolf-Livestock Conflicts in Minnesota

Implications for Areas Outside Minnesota


The extent of wolf-livestock conflicts in Minnesota is frequently used as a model for predicting the expected level of depredations where wolf reintroductions are proposed, such as the greater Yellowstone area (O'Neill 1988; Fischer 1989). Information is limited for estimating the potential level of depredations in areas outside Minnesota. Essentially all information on wolf-livestock problems in the American West comes from an earlier period when the wolf's wild ungulate prey was severely reduced and the wolf had little choice but to prey on livestock. Moreover, most information was collected in the context of wolf eradication programs where scientific objectivity was not a priority.

Important differences exist between northern Minnesota and other areas in the United States where wolf populations might be recovered. These differences occur in vegetation, terrain, size of ranches, animal husbandry practices, abundance and distribution of the wolf's natural prey and, potentially, in wolf behavior associated with learned avoidance of humans and livestock production areas. Conditions in Minnesota differ from those in the West by having (1) denser vegetation, (2) less-rugged (relatively flat) terrain, (3) smaller ranches, (4) more-controlled calving (although there is little control at some Minnesota operations), (5) fairly stable and nonmigratory natural prey populations, (6) virtually no grazing on public land, and (7) a long history of wolf-human interaction. These factors might suggest a higher rate of depredations outside Minnesota. Early observations of wolf recovery in Montana suggest that wolf-livestock contact may be induced by uneven terrain; wolves tend to use river valleys that support wintering ungulates or high year-round densities of ungulates in areas where livestock are most concentrated (E. E. Bangs, J. Fontaine, and S. H. Fritts, unpublished data).

However, the information from Alberta and British Columbia (which resemble the northern Rockies of the United States) reveals loss rates similar to those in Minnesota. Information from western Canada supports our conclusion that wolves frequently live near livestock without depredations occurring. Whether this holds true in other parts of North America is unknown. Clearly, projection of our findings to areas outside Minnesota should be done with great caution. Although losses in other areas of the United States where wolves and livestock would coexist might be as low as in Minnesota, one cannot make such a prediction without having wolves present.


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