Montana won't have enough money to cover all the 2021 claims of livestock killed by predators, the State Livestock Loss Board is reporting.
Losses to wolves, grizzly bears and mountain lions so far total 331, said George Edwards, the board’s executive director. With claims still coming in for several months it is doubtful the state’s $300,000 compensation fund will hold up.
“I’ve already had a dollar amount that’s higher than 2019, which was a record year,” Edwards said. Payouts through Nov. 23 total $262,449, but the board usually continues processing payments into the following March. Not all kills result in a filed claim.
What’s been increasing steadily for several years are claims for animals killed by grizzly bears. Six years ago, reported grizzly bear kills of cattle stood at 50 head confirmed with another 16 probable kills. That number has been creeping up and now stands at 80 confirmed and 35 probable kills.
The claims are investigated by U.S. Department of Agriculture Wildlife Damage agents. Montana then issues state-funded compensation based on market value. It’s a program first launched by the Montana Legislature in 2007 to deal with losses from wolves and grizzly bears, though mountain lions were later added to the predator list. It was the addition of mountain lions that increased funding from $200,000 to $300,000 in 2019, though it is losses to grizzlies that are driving claims upward.
The biggest number of losses are reported by counties bordering wilderness, national parks or both. Glacier and Pondera counties lead the state in cattle killed by grizzly bears so far this year with a combined 62. Glacier National Park the Bob Marshall Wilderness are the interface for the area.
Edwards said the livestock kills by grizzlies are extending east of the Rockies onto the plains. The eastern-most kill reported in 2021 was in Fergus County--pretty much in the middle of the state.
The number of livestock lost to wolves has been fairly stable for several years with reported deaths of cattle and sheep in the mid-50s to 60s, although in 2020 the wolf cattle kills were 45 and sheep were 40. Edwards credits wolf hunting with diverting wolf pressure on livestock.
Losses to mountain lions are different in nature. Cats tend to kill sheep and goats.
The USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service reports killing 25 wolves in Montana in 2020, the most recent year available. That same year, the federal government killed 8 grizzly bears and 20 mountain lions.