G&F nods to yearling 'multiplier' for predator kills

SUBLETTE COUNTY – With a nod to ranchers who risk losses of yearling cattle to hungry grizzlies pushing into permitted grazing rangelands, the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission is moving to increase its compensation for confirmed kills.

Up until now, yearlings and adult cows and bulls confirmed by Game and Fish biologists as grizzly and wolf kills have been compensated by the state wildlife agency at a 1:1 ratio for their fall market values. The “multiplier” for a confirmed calf kill is 3.5:1 for grizzlies and 7:1 for calves killed by wolves.

“Only calves in open range settings currently qualify for a multiplier,” said Game and Fish large carnivore supervisor Dan Thompson.

The question – should the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission consider a “multiplier” for yearling cattle that until now have been compensated 1:1 at market value.

On Jan. 26, the commission unanimously approved drafting a new regulation calling for a 1.25 multiplier for yearling cattle confirmed as predator kills. Definitions and if the new regulation would cover both grizzly and wolf kills are part of the public process.

“The Commission directed us to incorporate a 1.25:1 multiplier for yearlings and continue doing more research to fine-tune that number if needed,” Thompson said this week. “Further specificity will be incorporated into the draft Chapter 28 regulations such as definitions of yearling which will be made public at a future date after internal review.  Right now we are likely looking at the September 2022 Commission meeting for discussion and adoption of revisions to Chapter 28. 

Sommers’ data

In 2003, commissioners heard from Upper Green River Cattle Association’s president and Pinedale rancher Albert Sommers, who documents overall turnouts and losses every year.

Sommers said then and again on Jan. 26 that he only collected calf data in the 1990s, before serious predators appeared, with “an average 2-percent loss before grizzly bears.”

Now, he said, annual calf losses can be 10 to 13 percent.

“The WGFD asked me for our data months ago, then asked me to come present,” he said later. “I really didn’t think they would institute a yearling multiplier, because they want to do more yearling research.”

In 2010, Sommers began also gathering member permittees’ data on yearlings, cows and bulls.

From 2010 to 2012, they turned out 6,606 yearlings with 127 losses or almost 2 percent.

From 2013 to 2020, Sommers said, a total of 19,956 yearlings were turned out on the allotments with 529 lost or about 2.65 percent.

“(Yearling losses were) not increasing as badly as the calf losses, which have been at 10 percent since 2014,” he said. “Without the Game and Fish Commission’s compensation these ranchers would not be operating today.”

Sommers referred to 2015 as the “worst year” on Upper Green allotments. Grizzlies killed two cows, 11 yearlings and 66 calves; wolves killed seven calves and two yearlings.

In 2020, grizzlies killed 50 calves, two cows and 18 yearlings; wolves killed a calf.

“This is a good time to look at yearling compensation,” Sommers told the commission. For the UGRCA, the yearling compensation factor works out to a multiplier of 1.38 per animal, he added.

Permittees have tried rotating the herds and that helped, but when cattle die from larkspur poisoning, grizzlies are attracted to feed on them “and kill more,” he said.

Bunching them up at night didn’t work, Sommers said. This year, Sommers will test Wildlife Services’ flashing solar-powered tags at night for calves, he said.

Five riders go out every day from their respective Upper Green camps looking for signs of grizzlies and carcasses.

“You cannot leave them for two days, three days,” Sommers said of riders looking for dead livestock. “A calf will disappear in a day, a yearling overnight and a cow in three days.”

Without a large carnivore specialist’s confirmation, a loss won’t be compensated. 

Detection rates

Ranchers and riders likely do not find as many of the predator-killed livestock as occur, Game and Fish specialist Clint Atkinson told the commission on Jan. 26.

He presented his 2020 small study “Cowboy-Cattle Interactions” to look at “producer detection rates” at three Cody ranches.

It is difficult to detect wolf and grizzly kills with higher livestock concentrations and producers’ detection results “were highly variable,” he said.

“We will be further evaluating detection rates and multipliers this summer (at the Upper Green rangeland allotments),” Thompson said in an email.

Sometimes Game and Fish found kills that producers didn’t detect, Thompson said, and leave it to a specialist to decide whether or not to report them to ranchers.

Atkinson will conduct a similar study on the Upper Green this coming grazing season, where he will pick up from longtime Upper Green and Hoback Basin grizzly and wolf specialist Zach Turnbull.

Sommers warned commissioners Atkinson might need help this coming summer.

“One person and he’s got to investigate everything,” he said. “You need to make sure you take care of that guy because it going to be a long summer.”