Thursday, April 3, 2008

Group offers rancher compensation in Wyoming

A conservation group is hoping to entice more Wyoming stockgrowers to participate in its compensation program for livestock killed by wolves if stockgrowers undertake measures to help prevent conflicts between the two animals.

"Not all ranchers just want to kill a bunch of wolves," Suzanne Stone, regional representative of Defenders of Wildlife, said. "A lot of ranchers are working hard to make sure they can coexist with wolves. We want to help support those ranchers."

The compensation program will be similar to the one the Defenders of Wildlife administered before wolves in the Northern Rockies were removed from the federal endangered species list.

Since last week's delisting, Wyoming has taken over management of the wolves living within its borders.

Gray wolves in the extreme northwest of the state are now classified as trophy game animals, and they can be lawfully killed only with state approval. Wolves in the rest of the state can be shot on sight.

Under state law, ranchers inside the trophy game zone can now seek compensation for losses to wolves from the state Game and Fish Department. But no government compensation program is in place for ranchers outside the trophy area.

To be eligible for compensation under the post-delisting Defenders program, stockgrowers must try to employ nonlethal methods of avoiding conflicts with the canines, Stone said. Those include removing dead or dying animals from grazing areas in a timely manner, doing more range riding when possible and corralling the livestock at night when practical.

Jim Magagna, rancher and executive vice president of the Wyoming Stock Growers Association, said even with the compensation program, many ranchers will still have more incentive to remove wolves that are attacking their livestock than to try to coexist with them.

But Truman Julian, a Kemmerer-area rancher and chairman of the Lincoln County predator management board, said he believes most ranchers outside the wolf trophy game zone will be interested in trying to work with compensation program.

"I think some ranchers will take Defenders up on this offer," Julian said. "I know I will."

As a general practice, he already employs all of the conflict-minimization actions that the Defenders of Wildlife organization asks ranchers to do.

"The problem is confirmation," Julian said. "You have to have them confirmed. Sometimes it's very hard, and then you only get a fraction of what you actually lose."

Julian said he believes Defenders of Wildlife is sincere in its desire to compensate wolf kills, but it is often impossible to get to the dead animals quickly enough to make the confirmations.

Since 1987, Defenders of Wildlife has paid out more than $1 million in livestock compensation to ranchers throughout the West. Wyoming stockgrowers have received more money over the years _ $331,642 _ than stockgrowers in any other state.

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