Sublette Predator Board sets next budget

Cali O'Hare file photo

USDA Wildlife Services say costs set to rise

SUBLETTE COUNTY – Costs are rising considerably for federal predator-control services the county contracts to assist with coyote, non-trophy gray wolves and other predators, according to an update at the Sublette County Predator Board’s Dec. 9 annual meeting.

But that doesn’t mean the county board is prepared to spend much more money.

The update and a proposed annual contract came from Brady Smith, acting regional director of USDA’s Wildlife Services, with trapper Jeff Hansen to report on actions in the past fiscal year.

Board members present included officers reelected that day – president and sheep producer Pete Arambel and secretary-treasurer sheep producer Cat Urbigkit – with cattle rancher Jacque Downs reelected. Cattle-rancher members Kevin Campbell and Clay Olson and county commissioner-appointed member and sportsman Josh Adams also attended.

Any livestock producers who pay predator fees in Sublette County can attend the meetings. Boulder cattle rancher Cotton Bousman and sheep rancher Kristi Thoman Wardell came as well, with her stock in the county five months of the year.

The board heard about Wildlife Services’ 2022 activities and discussed the coming year’s contract in view of its predicted 2023 revenues and expenses.

From Dec. 1 to Nov. 30, the WS team covered more than 446,000 acres of Bureau of Land Management (BLM), almost 160,000 acres of Forest Service and 48,880 acres of private land, with permission, in Sublette County. Nine employees put in 774 hours on the ground and 148.5 hours in the air. They estimated gunning 298 coyotes, taking out seven predator-zone wolves and poisoning 290 magpies and 125 ravens. They also trapped and relocated two river otters at the request of Wyoming Game and Fish.

Money in and out

Wildlife Services’ federal fiscal year (FY) budget runs from Nov. 1 to Oct. 31 and the predator board’s fiscal year is from July 1 to June 30. The board budgeted $65,800 for 2022 and its WS bill came to $48,255, Urbigkit reported.

Not on her annual financial report dated Nov. 19, she penned a $200 check for a recent coyote hunt’s prize money.

Twenty cents of every cattle sale predator fee and 60 cents for each sheep are returned to the county of designation and for 2022, the total came to $16,437, which might mean more sellers wrote in “Sublette County,” she said. If the home county isn’t written in, the predator fees go to the county where the sale took place.

“Sixteen thousand is the highest it’s ever been,” she said.

Sublette County reimburses the predator board up to $50,000 and in FY2022, the total was $47,469. Revenue of $88 came from the state and CDs’ interest yielded $135, she reported.

As of Nov. 19, the predator board had $89,133.74 in its checking account, minus $200 for prize money, and $84,208.75 invested in seven CDs. Board members gave verbal consensus for Urbigkit to explore better interest rates.

The proposed FY2023 budget estimates $15,000 income from predator fees, $50,000 from the county and $400 in interest to total $65,400. Proposed expenses are $800 for administration including education expenses, $600 for coyote hunt prize money and $64,400 for Wildlife Services to total $66,000.

Talking contracts

“Our rates are going up substantially, I understand,” Smith told the board.

The agency anticipates a 4.6 percent salary increase, daily rates for vehicles are rising from $17 to $21, aerial costs will go from $160 to $180 an hour for fixed-wing aircraft and from $700 to $800 an hour for the helicopter.

Word is coming “from the top down” that clients might be asked to help pay for data administration costs, he said. “They assessed (Wyoming WS) for tens of thousands and it put us $200,000 in the red with no notice.”

Smith said Wyoming WS’s federal funding was supposed to cover it. Urbigkit suggested Congress should have covered that expense.

“We’re supposed to charge each cooperator $1,000,” Smith said. “We are not about to go there and we will not be putting that costs on the producer’s back.”

Campbell said he didn’t realize the predator board would have to pay for state computers – “I’m not in favor.”

“These are things the state (WS) office has to pay for,” Urbigkit said.

Downs added, “And eventually it may come down to us.”

Urbigkit pointed out that the 2022 WS contract was not to exceed $65,800 and the total WS bill was just over $48,000. The board has money in the checking account if needed.

“We have, I think, one of the most efficient programs in the state and we’re cheapskates,” she said. “And we want to continue with a cost-effective program.”

The board agreed to set a $66,000 cap on its 2023 WS contract. Smith said he fears response time could be slower with rising costs cutting into staff hours in Sublette County.

No change

Adams urged the board to rely less on county money and consider raising the brand-inspection predator fees – an annual topic that every year Campbell moves to leave unchanged and the board approves.

“In the past, we contracted for more than we’re spending,” Adams said. We’re increasing the contract costs but getting a slower response time.”

Predator control costs are “mainly absorbed by the county” mainly for livestock and predator fees cover less than half of the burden. The fees can go as high as $1 per head.

“The reality is prices of everything are going up for the same amount of protection and I think (staying) at 20 cents for cows is kind of crazy,” he said.

Also, “north and south” are different with Game and Fish covering the trophy-wolf management area, he said. “It would be helpful for this county to know where more coyotes are killed?”

Hansen said WS flies more around Big Piney, then Daniel, Cora and down the Green River. Wardell noted she can lose 50 percent of her lamb crop to coyotes, eagles, dogs and cats.

Coyotes do more damages in the south than the north, Campbell said. “We don’t need much control. … They pay more for sheep so they deserve more.”

With this vote the last item on the board’s agenda, Campbell made a motion that predator fees remain the same – 20 cents for cattle and 60 cents for sheep.

“I’m here to represent my fellow cattlemen,” he said. “If this board were to raise fees on my fellow cattlemen, I’m walking out of here right now.”

The board approved to keep predator fees as they are.

Looking up

With WS pressuring predator wolves in the southern part of Sublette County, Urbigkit and Bousman both reported better survival and breeding results this spring in the Boulder area.

“Six or eight years ago when a big group was killed, we had 8- to 10-percent death loss,” Bousman said. Then it averaged off around 5 percent “and this year it was right at 3.5 percent.”

Even the older cows bred back well at 95 percent because cattle were more relaxed without predator pressure, he said. “It was the best year we’ve had on that.”

Urbigkit agreed – “It was our best lamb crop ever. It went up substantially for us this year.”

Campbell’s ranch in Bondurant is in Game and Fish’s trophy-game zone with hunting seasons.

“We didn’t have near the damage we used to, wolf-wise,” Campbell added.

Game and Fish’s Ken Mills and Clint Atkinson weren’t available to report on confirmed depredation by protected grizzlies and trophy-wolves in the past year.

Video News