For a century and a half, ranchers in the northern Rocky Mountains have been grazing cattle and sheep in the backyards of bears, lions, coyotes andwolves. Despite these temptations, predators are responsible for only a tiny fraction of livestock deaths each year (according to USDA NASS statistics, about 6.5% of deaths in Montana, and 5.5%nationwide in 2010). Weather, disease, complications from calving and other reasons unrelated to predation cause the vast majority of losses. However, depredations do occur (there were 98 confirmed and 27 probable wolf depredations in Montana in 2012), and it is important to work to prevent them, to save the lives of livestock and predators alike.
All too often, landowners and government agencies resort to lethal measures in response to livestock attacks. While killing an offending predator may provide a temporary solution, it rarely results in any long-term fix. That is because when, for example, a depredating wolf pack is destroyed, another pack will quickly move in to reclaim the vacant territory, and the cycle of death will simply repeat itself. In fact, studies suggest that killing carnivores may even lead to more conflicts. For example, killing a wolf or coyote pack’s experienced hunters could cause the rest of the pack to resort to easier prey such as livestock. Also, disrupting a pack’s social structure could lead to an increased number of breeding pairs, resulting in more hungry mouths to feed (consider the old adage, “Kill a coyote, and two will show up at its funeral”).