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CODY, Wyo. — Workers with area predator control programs met with Park County commissioners Tuesday to discuss new funding options and to report on their efforts managing conflicts between ranchers and wolves, as well as other animals.

According to a report by Wildlife Services covering operations in Park County between Jan. 1 and June 12, coyotes topped the list of predators affecting livestock operations, while wolves and grizzlies had a smaller impact.

A program under the Agriculture Department's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, the Wildlife Services program offers federal assistance to ranchers, farmers and rural landowners in resolving conflicts with wildlife.

Through a variety of methods, including the use of traps, snares, poison and firearms, Wildlife Services agents killed 178 coyotes over the last six months. Most of them, 112, were killed by a shooter in an airplane.

Verified livestock losses to coyotes included six calves and five sheep.

Four wolves were killed by Wildlife Services, down substantially from 17 reported killed in the region between November and February. Three calves were verified as having been killed by wolves.

The report lists one verified case of a calf lost to grizzly predation and no killings of grizzlies by the agency.

According to the report, 35 ranches and large property owners in some of the most remote sections of Park County have working agreements with Wildlife Services.

"We can't go on any property without having a signed agreement," said Craig Acres, eastern district supervisor for Wildlife Services. "We sit down with the landowner and list the methods used, and the species to be taken."

Acres said lower predation numbers and fewer killings of problem animals, as listed in the latest report, are largely because of Park County's funding of a separate agent dedicated to nuisance animals like raccoons and skunks. That frees wolf specialist Jim Pehringer to focus only on that species.

Acres said the work performed by Wildlife Services agents over the past 10 years has changed dramatically, from focusing primarily on coyotes to a wide-ranging list of activities.

"We're working on an oral rabies vaccine to help vaccinate skunks when we have rabies outbreaks," Acres said. "We're going to start doing sample collection for avian influenza. We even do pigeon control work for municipalities."

A problem in areas around Rock Springs that Acres has seen more of lately in the Bighorn Basin is ravens preying on calves, with at least one calf lost to ravens in the past six months.

"It's been a problem all over the state, especially with lambs," he said. "The ravens move in where cows are calving, and they're picking up the afterbirth. Then they peck in the eyes and anus and umbilical cord of the calf. It causes bleeding, blindness, infections and sometimes death."

Acres said the reports of raven attacks on calves and lambs have been rare in the Basin but have increased in the past three years.

Much of the discussion Tuesday focused on funding for the county's predator control program.

Changes in state laws have provided the potential for state funding of county programs, said Tod Stutzman, chairman of the Park County Predatory Animal District advisory board.

Stutzman said the program has typically been funded through a predator fee component of money spent by ranchers on brand inspection of cows and sheep, as well as through a portion of federal grazing allotment fees.

Park County has also recently provided $22,000 in annual funding.

Legislation taking effect July 1 is likely to offer options to counties, including potentially $50,000 for each county to use in predator control programs.

Most of the details of state predator control funding are still up in the air, Stutzman said, with money unlikely to become available until September, or possibly as late as January.

So the district is again requesting $22,000 in county funds until the funding picture becomes more clear and commissioners have a chance to assess their options under the new law, Stutzman said.

Contact Ruffin Prevost at rprevost@billingsgazette.com or 307-527-7250.

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