Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Report: Most Montana cattle losses in ’05 not due to predators

By BECKY BOHRER - Associated Press Writer

BILLINGS — Montana ranchers lost 66,000 cattle — valued at nearly $42 million — to predators, disease and other causes last year, a federal report issued Friday shows. Most of the losses, 63,000 head worth $40 million, were not due to predators, the report from the National Agricultural Statistics Service found. That was also true nationally.

Of the 3,000 head killed by predators in Montana, 2,400 were calves. Coyotes were the greatest cause of calf losses by predators, responsible for killing 1,300, the report found.

The report didn’t specifically break out wolves in the individual state summaries, but attributed a fraction of the 190,000 cattle killed by predators nationally — 4,400 head — specifically to wolves. Nationwide, ranchers lost 4.05 million cattle to all causes, the report showed. Those figures do not include Alaska, it said.

The report, based on surveys with farmers and ranchers, is released every five years, said Peggy Stringer, director of Montana’s branch of the statistics service. Agency figures show there were 2.4 million head of cattle in Montana, as of Jan. 1, 2006. The paper also details nonlethal measures used by producers in efforts to keep predators at bay. It found a broad spectrum of practices on Montana operations, ranging culling and frequent checks — each used by more than 31 percent of cattle ranchers — to use of special fencing and guard animals and ‘‘fright tactics.’’

Nationwide, producers spent $199.1 million on nonlethal control practices, the report said.

Janelle Holden, executive director of the Predator Conservation Alliance, said she’s seen interest in nonlethal methods grow in recent years, particularly as the region’s wolf population also has grown. More than 1,000 gray wolves are estimated to be roaming Montana, Idaho and Wyoming, 11 years after wolves were first reintroduced to the Northern Rockies.

‘‘I think Montana ranchers are very proactive and pragmatic,’’ Holden said. ‘‘They are willing to understand that these wildlife species are here to stay, and even if they’re not excited about that fact, they have to figure out a way to live with them.’’ Holden said there’s not a one-size-fits-all approach for farms and ranches when it comes to nonlethal methods, and that it takes a lot of thought on the part of producers to figure out what works for their specific situation.

The executive vice president of the Montana Stockgrowers Association was traveling and not immediately available for comment.

  • Helena Independent-Record

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