GREAT FALLS - The Montana Livestock Loss Reduction and Mitigation Board reports it has paid out about $142,000 for 369 livestock losses to wolves in 2009, but some question whether it is doing enough funding preventative measures.
The board said residents in 21 of Montana's 56 counties received compensation for livestock losses due to wolves.
"Wolves are all over the whole western third of the state," said George Edwards, livestock loss mitigation coordinator for the board.
The goal of the board, created after the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service turned wolf management over to the state in May 2009, is to build acceptance of wolves by compensating livestock producers for losses caused by wolves. Part of the plan includes preventing conflict.
"If you're not addressing the underlying problems that cause depredations, it's going back to this cycle of livestock losses and wolf loss," said Suzanne Stone of Defenders of Wildlife.
Preventive measures can include fencing, guard dogs, and people on horseback who patrol areas occupied by livestock and wolves.
"So far, they haven't funded one single project like that," said Stone.
Defenders of Wildlife contributed $100,000 to help get the state program going. Between 1987 and 2009, the group gave livestock producers in the Northern Rockies $1.3 million.
Edwards said the program doesn't have enough money to spend on preventive measures.
"Today, we don't have enough money to pay claims out probably even through the summer," he said.
But he said the state could get some of the $1 million approved by Congress for compensation and prevention efforts. He said the state could find out in April how much Montana will receive.
Officials say wolves account for a fraction of livestock losses.
In 2009, sheep producers reported losing 56,000 animals for reasons other than predators, such as disease and weather. They also reported losing another 18,800 animals to all predators, mostly coyotes. Eagles were blamed for another 600 sheep deaths, the U.S. Department of Agriculture National Agricultural Statistics Service reports.
"But that doesn't mean it is not a big deal if it's your livestock," said Carolyn Sime, the state's wolf program coordinator, of losses to wolves. "And losses can be frequent. It's one more reason these guys may lose livestock. Profit margins are already low."