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Trends and Management of Wolf-Livestock Conflicts in Minnesota

Noncapture Methods

We installed flashing highway lights at farms in response to 36 complaints, placed surveyor's flagging on farms in at least 8 instances, and placed a combination strobe light-siren device at the problem site in 6 instances. These devices were used along with trapping in 17 instances. Whether these nonlethal devices were successful in frightening away wolves is not certain. Observations from 1981 through 1986 did not alter earlier (Fritts 1982) impressions that use of the flashing lights found favor with the public, and as such played a meaningful role in the program. The combination strobe light-siren device reduced coyote depredations on pastured sheep when three to six devices were used, and thus may deserve systematic research trials with wolves in the future (Linhart et al. 1984).

Flashing lights were useful in the following conditions and circumstances: (1) in Zone 1 where lethal control was prohibited; (2) at the edge of small, open pastures where visibility to surrounding areas was good; (3) when wolves were reported near livestock but no depredation had occurred and lethal control could not be implemented; (4) where the remoteness and timing of a problem made trapping impractical; (5) when a depredation had occurred, but evidence of wolf involvement was insufficient to implement lethal control; (6) when weather and ground conditions prohibited trapping; (7) when presence of local dogs or other domestic pets prohibited trapping; and (8) when a depredation problem was so severe (e.g., nightly killing of turkeys) that every possible legal means had to be implemented immediately. At the request of two farmers, flashing lights were left installed at their farms for 3 years. In summary, these devices were valuable to the program from a public relations standpoint, despite lack of proof of their effectiveness.

Livestock-guarding dogs and taste-aversion conditioning have been promoted as alternatives to lethal control. The variation in pasture conditions and animal husbandry among farms is such that the effectiveness of these and other nonlethal techniques was expected to vary greatly. Taste aversion did not seem to be a viable technique (Gustavson 1982). We are presently more optimistic about the use of livestock-guarding dogs (Coppinger 1987) than we are about taste aversion or lights, but have observed that such dogs are not always effective. Effectiveness of dogs seems to be reduced in wooded or brushy pastures where livestock are dispersed, and in situations close to neighboring residences or other farm operations. Clearly, new approaches are needed. We noted that no single technique presently known can solve the depredation problem; rather, resolution must be sought through a combination of approaches that includes improvements in farm management practices, lethal trapping, and creative, nonlethal techniques.

The existence of an indemnity program seemed to have a mollifying effect on the agricultural community. The animosity directed at program personnel and the federal government probably would have been much higher if no such indemnity program existed, and the pressure on our program to resolve depredation problems would have been even greater. There were some common complaints about the compensation program: livestock value limits were too low, fair-market value at the time of the loss was paid rather than projected value at market time, and no compensation was paid for missing livestock at farms with verified losses. Several instances were seen in which the program created a bias attributing the cause of losses to wolves when overwhelming evidence indicated otherwise. Also, we observed that payment for losses did not encourage operators to correct management practices or try nonlethal methods.

We consider the Minnesota compensation program successful and well worth its cost, but suggest that payment be reduced or withheld when correctable husbandry practices seem responsible for depredations. This modification should provide farmers with incentive to improve husbandry practices that will save the program money. Other areas where producers are compensated for livestock losses to wolves are Alberta (Gunson 1983), Italy (Zimen and Boitani 1979), Montana (Fischer 1989), and Ontario (Kolenosky 1983). Gunson (1983) reported that yearly payment in Alberta varied from $29,828 to $85,122. Compensation was believed to be a useful component of problem wildlife (including wolf) management in Alberta, especially when used in combination with damage prevention and control (Gurba 1982). Gunson (1983, personal communication) listed other advantages of the Alberta indemnity program, including improved communication with agriculturists and improved appreciation of wildlife. Our observations in Minnesota led to the same conclusions.

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