Farmers who lose livestock to wolves could see relief

Rancher lost livestock to wolves
In this Jan. 19, 2012 file photo, Miles Kuschel checks his herd, which has lost several calves to wolves, on his ranch near Sebeka, Minn.
Steve Karnowski | AP 2012

Dan Ekre lost two newborn calves to wolves this spring.

He keeps about 100 cows on some land west of Bemidji. When the calves turned up as bits and pieces in his field, he called the Department of Natural Resources and then the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, just as he always does when wolves take his animals.

Usually the state reimburses him for the losses, but a few months ago the wolf depredation fund used to pay those claims ran out. Ekre didn't get a dime.

"They told me my claim was being processed," he said, "but they just don't have any money."

Now it seems Ekre and many other livestock producers might get paid for their lost animals after all.

Gov. Mark Dayton's proposed budget would double the state's wolf depredation fund from $200,000 every two years to $400,000.

Minnesota assistant agriculture commissioner Charlie Poster stopped at the Countryside Restaurant in Bemidji Thursday to tell 45 livestock producers about the new money.

"Livestock farms care a lot about this issue," he said. "There has been a lot of frustration."

Farmers say wolves are a major problem for the livestock industry in Minnesota, especially since a federal judge ended Minnesota's wolf hunting season late last year. With that decision, they lost the right to protect their herds from wolves.

The government trapping program previously responsible for taking problem predators lost funding during Minnesota's three wolf hunting seasons, so farmers couldn't call in state help.

Then in February, the roughly $200,000 budgeted to cover livestock losses in 2014-15 ran out. Ekre said farmers were paralyzed, hemorrhaging money.

"This is our livelihood," he said, "and we couldn't do anything to keep it."

The problem was especially marked in Beltrami County. Between 2003 and 2010 Beltrami County farmers made 77 wolf take claims. That's more than any other county by far — the consequence of so many cattle living in an area with so many wolves.

Poster hopes things will get better. If approved by the Legislature, the state depredation fund will be larger than it has ever been, and he hopes to round up extra money to pay the roughly $50,000 in outstanding claims.

The program in charge of sending federal agents to trap problem wolves was also re-funded last month by the state and federal government.

State and federal farm agencies will hold meetings Friday in Grand Rapids, from 9:30 a.m. - 10:30 a.m. at the public library, and at the Aitkin Public Library from 1 p.m. - 2 p.m.

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