Last November, Steve McLaughlin ran unsuccessfully for the office of Public Lands Commissioner for Washington State. Since that time he has kept a close eye on how our public lands are being managed and whether the residents living nearby are being affected either positively or negatively by state land policies. Steve is an avid outdoors man who understands the eco-relationship between man and nature. One of the top issues being closely monitored by Washington State ranchers, the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Fish and Wildlife, are the newly reintroduced, non-native wolf packs from the Montana area. They have watched as they populated across Montana, Idaho and now Washington. Why? Because the issue is one of people and food safety with broad economic impacts here in the State of Washington and across the nation.
The Economic Effect of Wolf Predation on Rural Communities
On Tuesday August 24, two calves were discovered in the Sherman Peak area on a federal grazing allotment that were killed by wolves. This brings this season’s total to 9 calves killed or maimed by these predators. To most, nine calf kills would not raise an eyebrow to anyone but the ranching family. But the economic impacts on our rural communities are far greater than what really meets the eye.
When a wolf preys on a herd of cattle and removes one or two calves from a herd, the breed rate of that herd is reduced by 20% to 30%. During the breeding season, most cows breed at a rate of around 98% in any given herd. Reduction in calf birth rates year to year due to wolf predation creates losses that directly impact the ranching family and our rural communities.
To illustrate this, assume the total number of breeding cows on a grazing allotment is numbered at 200 and the number of new calves born the following spring is 196, or 98% breeding success (note: these are notional numbers, because asking a rancher how many head of cattle he has is like asking how much is in his bank account). At the end of the season, those cows that did not breed are usually sold at a diminished, salvage value price. The average breeding life of a cow is ten years. Selling a dry cow results in loss of future calf production for up to ten years at an even greater loss of up to $12,500.00. Also assume that the average price of the sale of beef on the hoof is $1250 per head sold. Obviously, the price per head fluctuates depending upon market prices, but for illustrative means, we’ll use $1250 as a conservative estimate. If a herd suffers a wolf predation, assume there will be a 25% reduction in breeding rate for the affected herd. Again, this is an average of breed rate reduction of between 20% and 30% depending upon the stresses placed upon the affected herd. Given the prices of losses, this summer the rancher will suffer a loss of $11,250.00. Because of the decrease in calf production this summer, only 149 calves will be available in the following spring. Therefore, losses borne by the ranching family will be $62,500, or $72,500.00. In reality, losses are typically far greater than what is illustrated in this example.
To most ranchers, a loss of $73,750.00 over a one-year period is likely enough to put them out of business in a very short period of time. If a rancher can survive this level of loss, the ranching family will have to determine the sacrifices they will be required to make to their business and personal expenditures. On the personal level, a loss of this magnitude may result in loss of a college education for a family member, or having to put off the purchase of equipment necessary to operate more efficiently. Consider the trickle-down effect; the college or university loses a tuition, and the equipment dealer loses one major equipment sale that negatively affects the bottom line of the dealership. More rural families in the service and education sector are affected.
The current national unemployment rate is around 4%. In many rural counties in Washington, the unemployment rate is about 7% during summer months and as high as 17% in winter months. The ranching family may also be required to lay off one or two ranch hands because of wolf predation losses, thus affecting the unemployment rate, the tax base and the trickle down effect on purchases the employee would normally make in a given year. This includes fewer auto sales, less money spent in the grocery store, having to pass on a needed pair of shoes to the employee’s children. Moreover, the out of work employee would likely be required to go on public assistance thus negatively affecting the county tax base, and the taxpayers pocketbook.
Another consequence of wolf predation is the decimation of deer, elk and moose populations. Economic losses stemming from decreased hunting and game viewing opportunities affect sporting goods profit, hotel and restaurant profits
These are the unintended consequences of the reintroduction of a species that was never previously native to Washington State. Is there a better way to address the wolf issue than to spend unnecessary taxpayer money to keep the species on the state endangered species list? It is time to begin using effective control measures to achieve a balance to ensure wolves don’t brutally kill our domestic stock and wildlife populations.
~ Steve McLaughlin and Jamie Henneman