A Cow is worth more than a Wolf
Last fall, a newspaper published a guest view titled, “A wolf for a cow doesn’t add up,” in response to the authorized lethal take of wolves. Lethal take of wolves is a result of numerous documented attacks on livestock and only after non-lethal measures have been put in place. Wolf supporters believe attacks on livestock do not warrant lethal measures, but the carnage and stress inflicted on livestock and the research on the matter proves otherwise.
ODFW’s website shows 14 confirmed depredations between November 2021 and today. The definition of depredation is the act of preying, attacking, or ravaging. That’s what wolves do. They prey on cattle and sheep, rip them apart, and leave them to suffer. Wolves are known to engage in surplus killing, which means killing animals for more than their food needs and only eating a portion of what is killed. Surplus killing on livestock is more frequent than on wild prey because livestock are more vulnerable to predation.
ODFW has guidelines for confirming wolf depredations. Investigators must go on-site and find reasonable physical evidence (fresh tracks, bites marks, feeding patterns). The odds of an investigator confirming an attack on livestock is stacked against the rancher. First, the investigator must travel to the carcass before scavengers pick it a part, which means a rancher must find the carcass and call it in before that happens. That’s a difficult task when cattle and sheep are turned out on thousands of public land acres to graze. Northeast Oregon, where many depredations occur, is a steep, mountainous region, which often requires investigators to ride horseback because the land is not navigable by vehicle. Physical limitations aside, investigators do not confirm the emotional and mental impact of the attacks on cattle.
According to a study by Oregon State University, cows that have witnessed wolf attacks display signs associated with post-traumatic stress disorder. Wolf attacks create bad memories in cattle causing a stress response known to result in decreased viable pregnancies, light birth weights and a greater likelihood of getting sick. The presence of wolves alone contributes to complications that reach far beyond a kill-attack. When cattle are constantly living in fear of an apex predator, they are not allowed to fulfill a healthy and productive lifecycle. The public needs healthy cattle because healthy cattle positively contribute to a healthy ecosystem.
Grazing management with cattle allows pasture and rangeland to withstand drought longer and rebound from drought more quickly. Grazing cattle helps manage plant overgrowth that would otherwise act as fuel for wildfires. When cattle graze on grasslands they are sequestering carbon, which means the act of grazing stores carbon in the soil that would otherwise exist in the atmosphere. One cow is more valuable than one wolf on the environment.
The Gray Wolf was removed from the Endangered Species list in 2020 because the species has reached full recovery. Packs that prey on and harass livestock cannot be ignored. Wolves are creatures of habit and will teach their young to attack vulnerable livestock if that habit is developed by the adults. Research supports that an increase in one breeding pair of wolves is associated with a 2.7% increase in the expected number of cattle depredated in one year, but if one wolf is removed it would decrease the expected number of cattle killed next year by 1.9%. That is a decrease in confirmed kills, but think of the decrease it would have on the unconfirmed kills, the harassment of herds, and the decline in injuries or illness in cattle as a result of wolf presence.
When someone says, “a wolf is worth more than a cow,” remember they are not considering the calves bellowing for their mom after being orphaned or the miscarriages cows endure from being chased. They are not considering the environmental benefit of cattle. The financial impact and emotional toll on the ranching family whose job it is to protect their herd or the economic impact on the protein-rich beef feeding millions of American families.
- Muhly, T.B. and M. Musiani. 2009. Livestock depredation by wolves and the ranching economy in the Northwestern U.S. Ecological Economics 68: 2439-2450
- F. Cooke, L. R. Mehrkam, R. S. Marques, K. D. Lippolis, D. W. Bohnert, Effects of a simulated wolf encounter on brain and blood biomarkers of stress-related psychological disorders in beef cows with or without previous exposure to wolves, Journal of Animal Science, Volume 95, Issue 3, March 2017, Pages 1154–1163, https://doi.org/10.2527/jas.2016.1250
- Shafer et al. 2016. Optimizing Managed Grazing for Soil Health and Sustainable Production Systems. Found on https://www.sfa-mn.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/optimizing-managed-grazing-for-soil-health-and-sustainable-production-systems.pdf
- Taylor, Charles. 2006. Targeted Grazing to Manage Fire Risk. University of Idaho. Found on: https://www.webpages.uidaho.edu/rx-grazing/Handbook/Chapter_12_Targeted_Grazing.pdf
- Follett, R.F., J.M. Kimble, and R. Lal. 2001. The Potential of U.S. Grazing Lands to Sequester Carbon and Mitigate the Greenhouse Effect. Boca Raton, FL: Lewis Publishers.
- S. Department of the Interior. Oct. 29, 2020. Trump Administration Returns Management and Protection of Gray Wolves to States and Tribes Following Successful Recovery Efforts: https://www.doi.gov/pressreleases/trump-administration-returns-management-and-protection-gray-wolves-states-and-tribes
- Poudyal N, Baral N, Asah ST (2016) Wolf Lethal Control and Livestock Depredations: Counter-Evidence from Respecified Models. PLoS ONE 11(2): e0148743. https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0148743