Whenever one hears about another ag industry study being released one tends to approach it with some cynicism. University academic studies are treated with the most wariness as they can be filled with tedious arcane language and baffling charts, of interest only to other academics. Such documents usually need translation in order to see if there is any sense to the study. That is certainly not the case with a study released by Alberta Beef Producers and done by the Miistakis Institute of Mount Royal University. The study is entitled “Impact of Wildlife to Beef Producers.” I would boldly suggest that there has been no study that so thoroughly lays out the reality of the situation facing cattle producers as they grapple with this exasperating problem. The study goes where no one has gone before and lays the groundwork to much needed resolutions. This study should be required reading by not just livestock producers – but by every government official that has anything to do with the topic. Although probably futile, green lobby groups, the fishing and hunting lobby and other related wilderness groups would probably broaden their narrow perspectives if they made an effort to understand the situation by reading this document.
The executive summary states:
“This research was developed to improve the understanding of the interactions between beef producers and wildlife and the financial losses due to the impact because of wildlife (ungulates, carnivores and birds) on beef producers in Alberta. Wildlife impacts include financial losses such as depredation events, forage competition, stored feed loss, property damage, and prevention and management activities.”
The study meets its goals and does it with cold-blooded facts and common sense. It asks the obvious questions, but then goes a step further and delves into motives and the different perspectives of producers in certain scenarios. One finds that most producers accept the reality of wildlife on their property as part of the business, most welcome their presence, but there is a limit to that tolerance. That seems to be around a 1 per cent to 5 per cent loss factor from predators, with forage losses somewhat higher.
It is dependent on the area, but the biggest wildlife impact in this study is the growing problem of feed and forage loss due to rampaging ungulates and birds. The main area of concern being pastures and feedyards. The study suggests that the problem may be much worse as it would seem many producers can’t be bothered with reporting feed losses or find it hard to make good estimates. At times that also seems to affect predator loss reporting as verification is a problem. One big hole in the study, which the authors admit, is that it does not include losses to coyotes. Yet producers identify that predator as the main culprit in lethal losses. It isn’t explained clearly why coyotes were excluded but I expect it has to do with jurisdictional issues. Coyotes come under different legislation in Alberta and are defined as agricultural pests rather than wildlife. Notwithstanding the technical definition, common sense should have prevailed and coyotes should have been part of the study.
An interesting tidbit was the note that predator compensation in some American states was paid out at up to 10 times the market value of the animal. That’s not done in Alberta, in fact it seems compensation, when it is paid, is below market value. The idea with using a multiplier factor is to provide an incentive to landowners not to take lethal action against the predator. The idea is that non-action will preserve large iconic predators like wolves, cougars and bears. It’s a concept that should be considered for this province, perhaps as a pilot project. That approach causes one to connect it to the Ecological Goods and Services concept.
The study does allude to the responsibility of the public good and interest in the wildlife impact issue. The point being, which is so familiar to producers that over a maximum loss level, the public needs to pay the financial losses for the damage their wildlife are doing to producers’ livestock. The study also comments on mitigation steps that are being done to reduce losses and makes suggestions what further actions could be taken.
It’s a study that covers too much ground to be reported on in short column. One sincere hope is that it will lead to additional research and some real action steps to deal with this most frustrating issue. It’s well worth reading for producers and the public.