Finding a balance between livestock and predators in Alberta

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Management practices at ranches are believed to be key to reducing damage from large carnivores on the eastern slopes of the province

It can be a difficult balancing act to maintain wildlife populations of large predators such as bears, cougars, and wolves while maintaining livelihoods for ranchers along Alberta’s Eastern Slopes.

For the Waterton Biosphere Reserve Organization, key for producers living with predators is the ability to ran ranches to mitigate interactions.

But fair compensation for lost animals is also a necessity.

Jeff Bectell, coordinator of the Carnivores and Communities program at Waterton Biosphere, said it was difficult to manage interactions with wildlife, but it was possible.

Grizzly and black bear, puma and wolf populations have stabilized in the region and the group is making progress in reducing negative interactions, he said.

“From an ecological point of view, these species still exist; we haven’t lost her, that’s good. I think we are finding that they are relatively certain that the province’s recovery plan may work, ”he said. “The other good news is that the community has been working with the government to solve the problems that come with these things.”

Bectell, the ranch in the southwest corner of Alberta that hugs the Rockies and includes several national and provincial parks, said it was important to have these predators as part of the landscape.

“The negative side of the story is that there is conflict,” said Bectell. “We didn’t manage to combine the whole thing in such a way that everyone is happy and lives together in harmony.”

Mitigation projects under the program aimed to make farms and ranches less attractive to potential predators.

These efforts range from controlling predators on dead stocks to quick removal to securing grain bins and silage from bears.

Bectell said the program ran more than 100 projects that involved 60 producers in 70 locations.

But fair compensation for livestock losses by predators is a big focus of the program, Bectell said.

It can be difficult to determine if livestock has been killed, eaten by a predator, or even a missing animal has been found in an area known to be frequented by bears, cougars, and wolves to determine the cause of death.

Bectell said these situations were part of recent talks with the Alberta government.

“I think there has been a positive relationship between Waterton Biosphere, the community and the government trying to work together on these issues,” said Bectell.

Speaking to Environment Secretary Jason Nixon earlier this month, Bectell said the community had emphasized progress in containment efforts, but also the need to come up with a fair formula for determining predation predation.

Between 200 and 300 cattle are lost to predators in southwest Alberta each year, but pinpointing the cause of death of a carcass devastated by scavengers is nearly impossible for officials.

“I think the community on this one was interested in talking to the minister about how we deal with livestock losses and it is not in a place where we can always completely exclude predators?” He said.

The door of a normal grain bin that is not secured against grizzly bears seems to be torn open by the large carnivore. Predator reduction projects carried out by Waterton Biosphere Reserve include strengthening such bears against bears. | Photo of the Waterton Biosphere Reserve

Bectell said one solution is to compensate using a multiplier based on the assumption that where one predator is killed, others are likely to appear.

“Which means if you have a confirmed kill, you get paid for more than the confirmed kill,” Bectell said. “It’s a way of making it verifiable – you still need to have that confirmed kill – but you multiply by a certain factor for the animals that couldn’t be found or there was uncertainty where it couldn’t be confirmed.”

That factor in Alberta would be two and a half times the value of a single lost animal, Bectell said of his organization’s recommendation.

He also stressed that it is in everyone’s interest to conserve large predator populations along the Rocky Mountains.

“We like the idea that these animals exist and that they are all part of this functioning wild world,” said Bectell. “But it is difficult to do this in a way that is not unduly dangerous to people.”


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